On August 4, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the State Department’s submission to Congress of the second annual report on U.S. efforts to prevent, mitigate and respond to global atrocities. According to his statement, the U.S. has “enhanced early warning, strengthened civil society and multilateral engagement, and increased the capacity of U.S. government personnel to coordinate, integrate, and institutionalize atrocity prevention across our foreign policy.”
The Secretary said, “Preventing atrocities is critical to promote U.S. values, including respect for human rights, the sacred value of life, and fundamental freedoms. The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy states, ‘No nation can unilaterally alleviate all human suffering, but just because we cannot help everyone does not mean that we should stop trying to help anyone.’ We will not ignore the suffering of those who experience atrocities. We will continue to promote accountability for perpetrators of genocide and other atrocities.”
Pompeo added, This work was advanced by the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force, “which includes representatives from the National Security Council; Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and the Treasury; the United States Agency for International Development; and the Intelligence Community” and which “takes timely and effective action to assess and address atrocity risks.”
This report is mandated by the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018, which President Trump signed in January 2019 and which directs the State Department to provide additional training for Foreign Service Officers assigned to a country experiencing or at risk of mass atrocities, such as genocide or war crimes and for the President to submit annual reports to Congress on U.S. efforts to prevent mass atrocities.
Weisel (1929-2016) was a Romanian-born Jewish prisoner at the Nazi’s Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, from which he was liberated in April 1945 by the U.S. Army. For the next 10 years, he lived in France where he became an author and journalist. In 1955 he moved to the U.S., where he wrote over 40 books, mostly non-fiction about the Holocaust and taught at Boston and Yale universities and Eckerd and Barnard colleges. In was awarded many honors, including the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize as a ”messenger to mankind . . . of peace, atonement and human dignity.”
During the May 25th physical restraint and subsequent killing of George Floyd, by three Minneapolis police officers, one of the officers said, ““I am concerned about excited delirium or whatever.”
This statement is not unusual for U.S. police officers. “Across the United States, police officers are routinely taught that excited delirium is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress, typically accompanying drug abuse, often resulting in sudden death. One 2014 article from the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin describes ‘excited delirium syndrome’ as ‘a serious and potentially deadly medical condition involving psychotic behavior, elevated temperature, and an extreme fight-or-flight response by the nervous system.’”
This concept, however, is pseudoscience according to three distinguished medical scientists. The following is their explanation for that conclusion.
“It’s not a concept recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychiatric Association. It isn’t a valid diagnosis; it’s a misappropriation of medical terminology, and it doesn’t justify police violence.”
“While delirium is a well-recognized diagnosis frequently seen and treated by neurologists and psychiatrists, excited delirium is not. Delirium is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an acute, fluctuating disturbance in attention and cognition, typically provoked by an underlying medical condition such as infection, drug intoxication, a medication’s adverse effects or organ failure. It can have “hyperactive” or “hypoactive” features, meaning that patients may be agitated or drowsy, or may move between these states. A typical case might be seen in an elderly man admitted to a hospital with a urinary tract infection, who over the course of a day or two becomes confused (e.g. unable to understand where he is or recognize family members) and starts sleeping throughout the day and getting agitated overnight. Delirium is not associated with sudden unexpected death.”
“Excited delirium, on the other hand, stems from an 1849 description by Luther V. Bell in the American Journal of Insanity. Bell looked at 40 patients admitted with “fever and delirium” to the psychiatric facility at McLean Hospital in Boston. Proponents of the excited delirium diagnosis refer back to Bell’s description as historical data, but the cases he studied did not involve deaths occurring in the span of minutes to hours, but rather two or three weeks after admission. While it is not possible to retrospectively diagnose these patients, it’s likely that many of them suffered from forms of infectious or autoimmune encephalitis.”
“Charles V. Wetli, a forensic pathologist, first used the phrase ‘excited delirium’ in 1985 to explain a series of sudden deaths in cocaine users, occurring primarily in police custody. Wetli also used the term to describe the deaths of 32 black women in Miami during the 1980s, proposing that a combination of cocaine use and sexual intercourse had led to their demise. He posited that, with chronic cocaine use, ‘the male of the species becomes psychotic and the female of the species dies in relation to sex,’ stating, ‘My gut feeling is that this is a terminal event that follows chronic use of crack cocaine affecting the nerve receptors in the brain.’ Later, however, police attributed the deaths to a serial killer, and evidence of asphyxia was found upon reexamination of the corpses.”
“Despite these shaky origins and the lack of grounding in medical science, this concept — of a febrile, agitated state often culminating in death — has persisted, advanced by law enforcement. The features of this purported condition, as listed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, betray its entanglement with law enforcement, including ‘bizarre behavior generating phone calls to police,’ ‘failure to respond to police presence’ and ‘continued struggle despite restraint.’ Severalanalyses have found that the majority of deaths attributed to ‘excited delirium’ are associated with the use of physical restraint. Some emergency-medicine doctors who are proponents of the diagnosis have been criticized for having conflicts of interest with the stun gun industry. And the manufacturer of Tasers has helped popularize this diagnosis to help attribute Taser-associated deaths to other possible causes.”
“The syndrome is disproportionately diagnosed among young black men, highlighting the racist undertones of the reported clinical symptoms: having ‘superhuman strength’ and being ‘impervious to pain.’ It winds up being a convenient scapegoat cause of death after a violent confrontation. Or it becomes a justification for police aggression that may be unwarranted. There is reason to believe that it increases the risk of police encounters turning fatal. When officers are taught that traditional tactics such as ‘pepper spray, impact batons, joint lock maneuvers, punches and kicks’ are ‘likely to be less effective’ against suspects with excited delirium, as the American College of Emergency Physicians paper suggests, they may resort to more aggressive maneuvers, such as knee-to-neck chokeholds or hogtie restraints. According to a 2012 article published by the Force Science Institute, at one police training seminar in Illinois, a police veteran described excited delirium suspects’ ‘imperviousness to pain’ and recommended responding with force that is ‘fast and overwhelming, with a vascular neck restraint possibly considered as part of the package.’ The result can be a tragic paradox: an apparently terminal ‘condition’ that can be treated only with the escalation of force, inevitably increasing the chances that it will be fatal.”
“The other justifications for this ‘diagnosis’ also fail to pass scientific muster. Some proponents of excited delirium point to the accumulation of ‘heat shock protein 70’ in the brains of affected individuals. But this is also seen in deaths associated with cocaine use and is not evidence of a unique diagnosis. Others cite cases of extreme responses to stimulant use and emotional duress, such as heart failure and cardiac arrest, but these cases are not associated with agitation or altered consciousness. At any rate, cardiac stress responses are much more common in older, postmenopausal women, not in younger black men, who aren’t a particular risk for this kind of stress response but are disproportionately likely to be killed in police encounters.”
“Excited delirium implies that there is a medical condition that predisposes certain individuals, often black men, to die in police custody. It draws upon aspects of real medical conditions such as delirium, psychosis, drug intoxication and sudden cardiac death. But it manipulates them to form a broadly applicable blanket diagnosis that serves the interests of law enforcement and absolves officers of accountability.”
Méabh O’Hare is a neuromuscular fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Joshua Budhu is a neuro-oncology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Altaf Saadi is a general academic neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
This was the title of David Brooks’ May 14th presentation at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Town Hall Forum. An appreciative audience of over 3,000 filled the Sanctuary and other rooms at the church to hear the talk and demonstrated why he called Westminster his “favorite venue.”
Both the talk and his recent book, “The Road to Character,” emphasize “modesty and humility” and assert that “human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance and weakness” and that “character emerges from the internal struggles against one’s own limitations.” This at least is what the Syllabus for his “Humility” course at Yale University states. Or as he said in his talk, we are “splendidly endowed, but deeply broken.”
Brooks recalled with gratitude three personal uplifting moments. One was observing his then three young children playing on a beautiful day. Another was watching women in Maryland teaching English to immigrants. The last was sitting at a luncheon next to the Dali Lama and experiencing his inner joy and laughter. These moments produced David’s overwhelming sense of gratitude to have experienced these moments of higher joy, an enlargement of his own heart and an acknowledgement that these had happened to him by the grace of God.
Because issues of morals and character in western culture have been discussed by Christian theologians, his book uses their vocabulary. We need to recover and perhaps modernize that vocabulary, said Brooks, especially to recover the meaning and importance of the concept of sin.
He also mentioned that many contemporary U.S. politicians feel compelled to promote and advertise themselves and as a result start to believe their own propaganda. Exceptions of politicians of modesty and honesty are former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Westminster member who was in the audience; Minnesota’s former U.S. Senator David Durenberger; and current U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.
His book provides biographical sketches of how 10 different people in different ways created disciplines that built character. He mentioned the following six of them in his talk.
Ida Stover by age 11 had lost both of her parents and then was an overworked indentured servant in another household, but at age 15 she left to be on her own, to get a job and an education. Later she married David Eisenhower, became Ida Eisenhower and raised five sons, one being Dwight D. Eisenhower. After Ike threw a temper tantrum at age 10, Ida paraphrased Proverbs 16:32 to him: “He that conquereth his own soul is greater that he who taketh a city.” In other words, the central drama of your life is fighting against your own sinfulness and weaknesses. Many years later Ike said this was one of the most valuable moments of his life that helped him to recognize his temper as a weakness and to develop techniques to prevent it from interfering with his leading others.
Frances Perkins was a genteel graduate of Mount Holyoke College who found her vocation of improving worker safety by happening to be a witness to the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire in Manhattan, in which many workers lost their lives. She responded to what the world was demanding of her.
Augustine for many years resisted his mother’s efforts to become a Christian, but after he had done so, the two of them shared a beautiful moment in a garden just before she died when “all the clamors of the world slipped into silence” and were “hushed.”
Dorothy Day, a social activist, near the end of her life started to write her “life remembered,” but could not do so. Instead she “thought of our Lord [Jesus], and His visit to us all those centuries ago, and I said to myself that my great luck was to have had Him on my mind for so long in my life!” Day’s “The Long Loneliness” shows her intense self-criticism, her discovery of her vocation and her humility. It is one of Brooks’ favorite books and also of the students in his Yale course on humility.
George Eliot (born Mary Anne Evans) obtained character through her love for George Lewes, and such love, according to Brooks, humbles a person, making you realize you are not in control of your own life; allows you to express tenderness and vulnerability; de-centers your self; and fuses two individuals together.
Brooks advised the high school students in the audience to make the following commitments by the time they were at least in their mid-30’s: adopting an existing faith or philosophy of life; choosing a vocation; getting married; and choosing a community in which to live. Although he did not say so, these commitments may change during your life.
With respect to the marriage commitment, Brooks quoted this beautiful excerpt from a beautiful wedding toast that was offered by his friend and noted American author, Leon Weiseltiere, to an unnamed couple:
“Brides and grooms are people who have discovered, by means of love, the local nature of happiness. Love is a revolution in scale, a revision of magnitudes; it is private and it is particular; its object is the specificity of this man and that woman, the distinctness of this spirit and that flesh. Love prefers deep to wide, and here to there; the grasp to the reach. It will not be accelerated, or made efficient: love’s pace is its pace, one of the fundamental temporalities of mortal existence, and it will not be rushed or retarded by even the most glittering pressures of service or success. Love is, or should be, indifferent to history, immune to it — a soft and sturdy haven from it: when the day is done, and the lights are out, and there is only this other heart, this other mind, this other face, to assist one in repelling one’s demons or in greeting one’s angels, it does not matter who the president is. When one consents to marry, one consents to be truly known, which is an ominous prospect; and so one bets on love to correct for the ordinariness of the impression, and to call forth the forgiveness that is invariably required by an accurate perception of oneself. Marriages are exposures. We may be heroes to our spouses, but we may not be idols.”
 The audio recording of the speech is available online and later the video of same will be added. . Brooks’ prior appearances at the Forum, also to overflow audiences, are also available online: “The Historic Election of Barack Obama” (Nov. 13, 2008) and “The Social Animal: Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement” (Mar. 31, 2011).
 The Authorized King James Version of Proverbs 16:32 states: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
 The Dorothy Day book is on the 2013 edition of the Syllabus for Brooks’ “Humility” seminar at Yale. The other books on the syllabus as well as the topics covered in the seminar make one wish to be a student again. In light of Brooks’ recent book’s not including biographical sketches of any Jewish people and his comments on that omission to a Jewish critic, it is noteworthy that the Syllabus describes one seminar session as being devoted to Moses, the “most humble man on earth;” the “Jewish formula of character building through obedience to the law;” the “way the rabbinic tradition has interpreted the struggle between internal goodness and the evil urge;” and the Book of Exodus as the reading. The Yale seminar has prompted comments by a student who was in the seminar, criticism of the Syllabus and Brooks’ defense of the seminar.