A viral video showing a black teen losing consciousness while being choked by staff members of a juvenile delinquency centre sparked outrage Wednesday, as anti-racism protests continue to rage across the United States.
Cornelius Fredericks, 16, died May 1, two days after being pinned to the ground by staff at Lakeside Academy — a residential treatment for young adults in Kalamazoo, Michigan — for having thrown a sandwich at another boy in the cafeteria.
In the video, captured by surveillance cameras, Fredericks throws the sandwich and then is thrown to the ground by several men, who use their weight to subdue him.
After 10 minutes, Fredericks appears unconscious. Staff members attempted CPR before calling for medical help.
His death recalls that of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25 during an arrest that was filmed and spread on social media.
Floyd’s death has unleashed a massive wave of anger and protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
The “horrific video” of Fredericks’s death reveals a “culture of fear and abuse” at Lakeside Academy, where “suffocation is a regular practice… as a form of discipline,” the lawyer for Fredericks’s family, Geoffrey Fieger, said Tuesday while making the video public.
Fredericks “was executed on April 29 for the crime of throwing a sandwich,” Fieger said. The seven staff members who pinned him down “deprived him of oxygen and his brain suffered irreversible damage.”
Two of the instructors and one nurse were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse.
In June, Fieger filed civil lawsuits against the involved staff members and the private company that runs the Lakeside facility, Sequel Youth and Family Services, which has a contract with the state of Michigan.
“Cornelius’s scream of ‘I can’t breathe’ was not enough to get the staff members to stop the excessive restraint,” Fieger wrote in the lawsuit.
“The excessive use of restraints and the lack of concern for Cornelius’s life draw an eerily similar comparison to that of George Floyd’s death,” he added in the document.
Fieger said Tuesday that the operating company had proposed an out-of-court settlement of less than $1 million in compensation to Fredericks’s family.
Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in June denounced Fredericks’s “senseless” and “intolerable” death and announced that she was stopping all contracts with Sequel Youth and Family Services in the state.