The Drexel nightmare is over, but fear still haunts SC family

Joan Taylor of McClellanville, S.C., is terrified that what happened to a man named Keenan Anderson 2,500 miles away in Los Angeles might happen to one of her grandchildren. It’s not just because they are young and black like Anderson, though videos like the one depicting some of Anderson’s final hours on Earth during an encounter with LAPD disturb black parents throughout the United States. It’s because Taylor’s grandkids have more reason than most to fear police.

For more than a decade, they watched law enforcement harass and hound their father and grandfather, accusing them of kidnapping, rape and murder, crimes actually committed by a white convicted serial high-level sex offender. They grew up in the shadow of one of the highest-profile crimes in Myrtle Beach history, one that kept communities up and down the East Coast transfixed until a man named Raymond Moody confessed in 2022 and was sentenced to life in prison.

They watched as Joan Taylor’s health deteriorated because of the stress and inability to fix a years-long roof leak on their home – because they had become public pariahs and could hardly make ends meet – which led to a black mold infestation. They watched as their father, Timothy Dashaun Taylor, endured countless death threats and racist slurs and be falsely accused of stealing 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel from her Rochester, N.Y., family for sex trafficking, as their grandfather Timothy Shaun Taylor was being falsely accused of shooting Drexel and feeding her body to alligators.

The allegations were based on lies a prison informant told Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, the agency most responsible for convincing the public for years that the Taylors had done ungodly things to Drexel. The agency pumped those lies into the public consciousness in 2016. The Taylor family has not been the same since. Attorneys for the Taylors recently filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the FBI, giving the agency about six months to respond to claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things.

The truth is that the deck is stacked against families like the Taylors who try to hold federal law enforcement agencies legally accountable for the wrong they inflict. No matter where the legal process leads in the coming months, Joan Taylor’s grandkids will still have to contend with the aftereffects of their relentless worry about the adults in their family and what men and women in uniforms and badges might do to them at any moment. They’ve had nightmares and mental health and emotional challenges.

“That’s what hurt me the most,” she said.

That’s why she is afraid for them not just because of what their family has had to face and overcome. She’s afraid because she knows they have legitimate reasons to fear men and women in uniform and wearing badges. She’s afraid because she doesn’t know how that fear might manifest itself during an encounter with police. If they run away, will the cops chasing them assume it’s because they’ve committed a crime? Assume their skittish reaction during a traffic stop means they are a potential danger to the officers involved or the public at large? Will it resemble what happened to Anderson?

According to police and eyewitness reports, Anderson got into a traffic accident. Distressed, he flagged down a police officer on a motorcycle. On the bodycam footage, it’s clear he is disoriented, which is why the officer suspected he may have been under the influence. It’s also clear he was terrified. After following the officer’s commands for several minutes, Anderson got up and began walking away and into a traffic-heavy street. The officer pursued, demanded he get down on the pavement. A couple other officers joined in, pressing their weight against his body. As Anderson continued to struggle, an officer tased him several times as he yelled for help, saying they were trying to “George Floyd” him. He was pronounced dead hours later.

Think about that. What began as a traffic accident ended with the death of a young black man after an encounter with police. While an investigation into an official cause of death is ongoing, there’s no getting around the fact that a small group of officers decided the best course of action during an incident that began as a traffic accident was to repeatedly taser someone in distress – someone who initially asked them for help. In a sane world, these things wouldn’t happen. In this world, though, it was just another day in America. It came just a couple of weeks after the end of 2022, a year in which researchers documented the highest number of police killings on record, nearly 100 people a month.

Such numbers should disturb us all, no matter if you wear a badge and uniform, defend those who do or understand the need for equitable law and order. Though each killing isn’t the same, with some surely justified, we can’t allow ourselves to grow numb to such carnage. We shouldn’t be OK with government being responsible for the deaths of so many of its citizens.

Joan Taylor doesn’t have that problem. She hasn’t grown numb to what has become routine. She can’t. Her grandchildren’s lives might depend on her resistance to the numbness – and ours.

Issac Bailey is a McClatchy Opinion writer based in Myrtle Beach.