In May 2019, Ronald Greene, a 49-year-old Black barber, died handcuffed to a gurney in an ambulance minutes after the Louisiana State Police (LSP) arrested him following a highway chase. The cops initially told a doctor and Greene’s family that he “died on impact” with a tree. The parish coroner declared Greene’s death accidental, reporting that he died from cardiac arrest following a car crash, with no mention of violence. Later the LSP issued a one-page report saying that Greene resisted arrest and “struggled” with police after his car stopped. The LSP then said that force used against Greene was “awful but lawful.”
All of this was false. There was no “struggle.” In May 2021, the AP released previously hidden body camera videos and information from police documents proving that state troopers tased and beat Ronald Greene to death after he surrendered.
For two years, the LSP and the state government, including Democratic governor John Bel Edwards, refused to release videos from Greene’s arrest. For fifteen months, the LSP did not open an internal investigation. When they did, the state said it would not release body camera recordings until all “investigations” were complete.
In September 2020, the LSP fired Trooper Chris Hollingsworth for misconduct in Greene’s arrest without announcing the reason. Hours after being told he would be fired, Hollingsworth died in a single vehicle crash that may have been suicide. An audio recording was leaked revealing that he had said about Greene, “I beat the ever-livin’ fuck out of him, choked him and everything else … He was spitting blood everywhere and all of a sudden he just went limp.”
The AP obtained a leaked copy of Trooper Dakota DeMoss’s body camera video. DeMoss and Hollingsworth were the first two cops to confront Greene. Police attempted to pull Greene over on a rural highway in northern Louisiana and Greene sped away, beginning a high-speed chase. Afterward a cop was recorded asking why he fled, saying, “All you did is speed a little bit and run a red light.”
When the car chase ended, Greene’s SUV was stopped in the middle of the road, touching DeMoss’s squad car, with minor impact damage and the airbag not deployed. Greene was sitting calmly, not visibly injured and able to move and speak normally. DeMoss approached the passenger door with his weapon, either a gun or taser, pointed at Greene and Hollingsworth approached the driver’s door. DeMoss screamed for Greene to show his hands and come closer. Greene is recorded holding up at least one hand and saying repeatedly, “All right,” and, “I got you.” DeMoss repeatedly called Greene “motherfucker.” Hollingsworth then tased Greene as he sat in his driver’s seat. Hollingsworth repeatedly screamed at Greene to get out of the car, while tasing him — impossible for him to do while showing his hands. Greene repeatedly shouted, “Okay!” Screaming in pain, he shouted, “I’m sorry … Officer, I’m scared. I’m your brother!” Hollingsworth tased Greene multiple times.
Repeating that he was scared, Greene stepped out of his passenger door. The cops immediately shoved him to his knees and screamed at him for not allowing them to push him completely onto his stomach. As they grabbed him from behind, calling him “motherfucker” and “bitch,” one cop absurdly shouted that Greene grabbed him. Hollingsworth then tackled Greene, who shouted, “Okay, I’m scared.” As Hollingsworth held him in a chokehold with his body on top of Greene’s head and shoulder, both cops screamed at Greene to place his hands behind his back, even though Hollingsworth had pinned one of his arms under his body against the pavement.
DeMoss then tased Greene in the back and shouted, “You’re about to get it again if you don’t put your fuckin’ hands behind your back.” Hollingsworth said that they had tased Greene “too many times.” As Hollingsworth continued to pin Greene by his head and neck, Greene held out his one free hand while unable to speak. DeMoss then punched Greene three times in the lower back and Hollingsworth struck him twice in the head. Trooper Kory York arrived and all three violently handcuffed Greene.
As the cops walked away from Greene, one shouted, “You stupid motherfucker.” One cop said, “I don’t think I’m cut. I just got his blood all over me.” They left Greene handcuffed, lying prone on his stomach, face down in the street, wailing in pain while they strolled around, washed their hands, and chatted. DeMoss turned off his body camera’s sound. York then stepped on Greene and, after another cop shackled his ankles, dragged him along the pavement by the ankle chain as four other cops watched.
The cops left Greene injured and handcuffed on his stomach for over nine minutes, a position known to make breathing difficult. They did not give him first aid but stood around showing utter contempt for him. One cop said about Greene’s blood on him, “I hope this guy ain’t got fucking AIDS.” Paramedics took a long time to get Greene onto a gurney and into an ambulance, and gave more attention to handcuffing him to the gurney than to providing emergency treatment.
Handling of Evidence
The emergency room doctor wrote that the police account that Greene died from a car crash did not add up. The AP obtained a leaked copy of the official autopsy, which states that Greene suffered a broken sternum, a tear in his aorta, a tear to his liver, and head lacerations not consistent with a car crash but with being struck with a blunt object. The official autopsy report also states that the LSP did not give state pathologists arrest, collision, or emergency medical reports. The autopsy found that Greene had some alcohol and cocaine in his system.
State pathologists took this evidence and wrote a conclusion minimizing the likelihood of police responsibility for Greene’s death, reporting that he died from “cocaine induced agitated delirium complicated by motor vehicle collision, physical struggle, inflicted head injury, and restraint,” and refused to rule his death a homicide, accident, or officially undetermined. The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association do not consider “agitated delirium” to be an actual medical condition.
When the AP began releasing video from Greene’s arrest, the LSP declared that, “The premature public release … of evidence undermines the investigative process and compromises the fair and impartial outcome for the Greene family, LSP employees, and the community.” After two days of media pressure however, the LSP suddenly released multiple videos from Greene’s arrest, while denying that it had intended to hide evidence.
One video recorded the phone call by Hollingsworth to his friend Trooper Chris White immediately after Greene was taken away. Greene told White that he had “beat the ever-livin’ fuck out of,” “choked,” and then “wrestled” — after handcuffing — a man under arrest. He then told his fellow cop that Greene was in an ambulance on the way to a hospital and said, “I’m haulin’ ass tryin’ to catch up to him.” The conversation suggests that Hollingsworth was asking for advice on how to cover up brutality. Hollingsworth states that at one point after beating Greene, he thought he was dead. White responded, “Damn … You think he, um … Y’all got it on body cam?” and Hollingsworth then switched off his body camera.
The highest-ranking cop in Greene’s arrest, Lieutenant John Clary, recorded a thirty minute video on his body camera, but told LSP investigators immediately after Greene’s death that he did not have any footage of the arrest. Internal investigators reported that they only discovered Clary’s video in April 2021. This video shows that Trooper York, who dragged Greene by the chain shackling his ankles, screamed, “Don’t you turn over! … You better lay on your fucking belly like I told you to!” when he attempted to turn onto his side while gasping for breath. The cops also pepper sprayed Greene while he was in handcuffs.
Clary claimed to internal investigators that Greene had been “still resisting, even though he was handcuffed.” He could only tell this lie by hiding his own video. Clary told fellow cops that it was okay not to raise Greene into a sitting position, which likely prevented him from breathing sufficiently and contributed to the low blood oxygen concentration discovered by paramedics.
The LSP repeated Clary’s lie when they declared in 2019 that Greene resisted arrest and died after a “struggle” with police. While Clary lied to superiors, LSP commanders were happy to believe the lie and participate in a cover-up. An event in which one unarmed and later handcuffed person is fatally beaten while multiple armed attackers have no injuries whatsoever is not a “struggle.
From the Governor to the Justice Department
In the two years the state kept evidence secret, Democratic governor John Bel Edwards insisted that he would only release videos after official “investigations” were completed. After the AP released leaked videos and forced the LSP to release footage, Edwards said that he “strongly supported” that decision. Edwards has two brothers who are top cops, as was their father. In 2016, after Baton Rouge police murdered Alton Sterling, Edwards praised the police response to protests by the city’s Black community, which involved arresting 200 protesters, as “moderate.” Unfortunately, unions in Louisiana have devoted enormous resources to campaigning for Edwards.
Almost a week after the media exposure, Edwards said that what police did to Ronald Greene was “unfortunate” and that the cops who beat Greene, “were not professional [and] did not conduct themselves as a law enforcement officer should.” He promised police reform from above.
The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has been “investigating” Greene’s death since at least September 2020, via the FBI, the department’s civil rights division, and the area’s federal prosecutor. Yet the DOJ never charged any of the cops who killed Greene with a crime or made the facts public knowledge — under both the Trump and Biden administrations. Authorities from the LSP lieutenant to the governor to the DOJ chose to move as slowly as possible, ignore and hush up proof of murder, and use proceduralism to hold back from prosecuting the guilty cops. Why?
All of these authorities are committed to the political claim that police brutality and racism are deviations from the norm. This belief can only be maintained by systematically hiding evidence. The demand for submission and the contempt with which the cops attacked Ronald Greene was not a coincidence. It was the outward manifestation of their actual relationship to Black and Latinx working class populations in a system of mass incarceration and social control.
U.S. authorities only minimally pretend to investigate crimes by cops because police forces are a club used to manage capitalist society. Racist mass incarceration is permanent and deliberate. Police are critical to repressing protests. Serious investigation (or truly abolishing qualified immunity) would cut deep into the flesh of every police force.
A governor is responding to a two year cover-up of a lynching for which he is ultimately responsible by suggesting that cops who cursed a Black man out while beating him to death after he surrendered simply needed to be more “professional.” This is evasion. Let’s realize that Trooper York was able to attack Greene while he was handcuffed, shackled, and wounded, with four other cops watching, on police video, yet the state police force announced afterward that Greene died after a “struggle.” For dragging Green, the LSP gave York a fifty hour suspension from patrol.
Why Are These Cops Shielded?
It would be misleading to assume that these extreme abuses limited to police forces in the deep South. The LSP gave York his 50-hour suspension for aggravated assault of a man who then died while the incident was under investigation by the Biden DOJ. The prosecutor for Milwaukee County, Wisconsin has publicly claimed that it is impossible to know whether the death of Adam Trammel — a physically healthy 22-year-old Black man who died in 2018 after cops beat him severely and tased him 18 times in his own apartment — was caused by the police.
The damning exposure of Ronald Greene’s murder occurred one month after Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd. Like many other state cover-ups of police crimes, the official response to Greene’s murder proves that it was the strength and consciousness of the protesters and not action by officials that led to Chauvin’s conviction.
Joe Biden’s fundamental position on racist police violence has been denial that shields the system. During an October 2020 debate, Biden argued that “The vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable [people who] risk their lives every day to take care of us. But there are some bad apples and when they find them, they have to be … held accountable.”
Police and prosecutor controlled “investigations” of police racism and brutality make excuses and move in slow motion because these officials cannot apply a knife to the very force they are a part of. Officials verbally present their decisions as cautious, moderate, and neutral. They declare all over that they feel deep personal sympathy for the pain of victims’ families. But their verbal promises of fair investigations obfuscate two facts. They deny and evade the actual scale of criminal violence by the police. And they try to replace actual combatting of the guilty party, the police, with diversionary substitutes such as 50-hour suspensions, promises to reform police behavior, or, in certain big cities in 2020, empty promises to partially defund or replace the police. In other words, they speak about “justice” while dancing around the realities of immense brutal force is being used by the police against usually Black and Brown people. The “justice system” is loath to apply the force of prison (or even termination) to guilty cops. Abstract promises about “investigation,” “accountability,” and “due process” are used as propaganda to justify why officials are ignoring clear evidence and allowing police crimes to go unpunished. The very fact that the police are an institution of violence is dismissed, so that no one may ask about the aims of that violence. The maliciousness of the contradiction can be seen when police chiefs and mayors who are opposing action against murderous police routinely purport that they are making decisions out of respect and concern for their victims’ families.
In mid-2021, there is no organized force in the United States that can respond to outrages like Ronald Greene’s murder by fighting consistently to bring the facts to the active attention of millions of members of the working class and arguing clearly that the police are a racist machine of oppression operated by the capitalist class and must be dealt with accordingly. The lack of mobilization and active working class political learning one year after the uprising against the murder of George Floyd is an effect of the hegemony of the Democratic Party.
Only a working class break from capitalist and pro-police parties, an anti-racist movement with working class force and methods, and practical consciousness of political realities can defeat the system that murdered Ronald Greene.