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Post Was George Floyd Choked to Death? Unpacking the Evidence (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 04/29/21 2:53 AM

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Was George Floyd Choked to Death? Unpacking the Evidence (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 04/29/21 2:53 am)

Gary Moore writes:

Was George Floyd choked to death? The trial verdict on ex-officer Derek Chauvin April 20 found Chauvin guilty of committing murder and manslaughter, but didn't say how.

The trial testimony's many claims and contradictory specifics were left in limbo for repackaging by viewer expectations--much as the original event, Floyd's death on May 25, 2020, had invited a global wave of interpretation, as a bystander's viral cellphone video seemed to convince just about everyone, in the days just after the event, that Floyd was choked to death.

Disturbingly clear in that video is the horrific image of a police officer remaining for 9 minutes and 24 seconds (a duration repeatedly cited at trial) in a holding position that kept his knee on Floyd's neck, with the detainee's head prostrate on bare pavement. The positioning arose as Floyd was held in wait for paramedics after an eruption of shouting resistance and struggle, which three police had been unable to contain. Then in a series of glitches, paramedic arrival was unaccountably delayed--though a fire station was less than three minutes down the street. Through deepening reverses (bystanders were also shouting and taunting), Chauvin seemed to grow frozen in his restraint stance for additional minutes, then another minute, then another, even past a point when Floyd stopped showing signs of life, about 6 minutes into the restraint. So what was this tragedy in physiological terms? Why did breathing stop?

The trial presented two starkly opposed sides, prosecution and defense, offering opposed explanations, basically the same two explanations appearing in litigation against police departments since the late 1980s, when Seattle medical examiner Donald Reay proposed the then-novel concept of "positional asphyxia." The essence of this was that if a prone detainee stops breathing and no clear signs can say why, the reason must be that the mere fact of his positioning by police restrainers--face-down positioning--has cut off his air supply by restricting the breathing motion of the chest. A landmark court case in San Diego in 1998 seemed to conclusively discredit this idea, with Reay himself taking the stand and admitting that the original methods leading him to the idea of positional asphyxia had been flawed. In later years, Reay took a more nuanced view, advising that multiple factors, including sudden cardiac arrest and drugs, might cause such in-custody deaths. But this view left litigation efforts with no one to sue.

Thus the positional asphyxia concept has been repeatedly resurrected, with new litigators finding professional testifiers who are willing to say that face-down positioning can be fatal (seven percent of the American population is said to routinely sleep face-down, with no known asphyxia resulting, while some Covid patients are intentionally turned face-down for treatment, because it actually improves respiration). Scientific studies have repeatedly shown the obvious, that the idea of positional asphyxia, as used is litigation and activism, is an accusational myth, somewhat as the idea of the Witches' Sabbath was once an accusational myth, in more familiarly labeled witch hunts--suggesting questions about discourse in our own age that discourse in our own age seems a bit slow to fathom, much as in prior fads of satisfying accusation (satisfying except to the witch), ranging from anti-Semitic pogroms to the baby-killing tales about early Christians in ancient Rome, to the Ku Klux Klan's announcement in the early 1960s that Castro had secretly landed platoons of black invaders on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Positional asphyxia--and the much larger context enabling it--has not paused to salute these colleagues. Its invocation continues to leverage municipalities into paying millions of dollars in damages rather than contest the abstractions in court. And now the Floyd case reminds further that courtrooms are not set up for diagnosis.

Prosecution witnesses in the Chauvin trial presented not just one theory of positional asphyxia but a confusing range of differing possibilities, with the main prosecution expert offering contradictions even within his own testimony. The defense--a one-man band facing the entire Minnesota Attorney General's Office and a tag-team of state prosecutors--repeatedly failed to question the contradictions, apparently banking on a one-theme defense contending that no one can show reasonable doubt that Chauvin had not done what a reasonable police officer would do. No systematic explanation was made as to how prosecution scenarios were positing that Chauvin's knee was placed on Floyd's throat in a way that blocked his airway (nor did the prosecution seem to notice how this would in turn contradict its simultaneous accusation of death by face-down positioning). Even the viral cellphone video, if viewed closely, shows Chauvin's knee on the back or side of Floyd's neck, away from the throat. Autopsy confirms that no throat tissues were bruised or damaged. Meanwhile the defense explanation of the death, saying that intense struggle, drugs, and a bad heart had produced sudden cardiac arrest in George Floyd, was made to look like a predictable excuse.

The prosecution told the jury over and over to "believe your eyes, look at the video," and the defense did not plunge in to emphasize that anyone looking closely at the cellphone video would see there was no choking. In the resulting murk, a jury which may already have been primed to convict could easily conclude that, even if the cause of death was indeed a cardiac issue and not a lung issue, the bizarrely prolonged restraint could have added to emotional stress leading to heart failure--which could mean Chauvin sort of did it anyway. But this is not the same as establishing that Floyd was choked. Outside the arena of jurisprudence, the idea of choking becomes important as another kind of marker, taking the measure of public illusion.

An April 22 speech by activist Al Sharpton was described by the Associated Press as proclaiming that Chauvin was found guilty "for holding a knee to Floyd's neck, choking off his breathing until he went limp." I was so surprised by this that I looked for a verbatim transcript of Sharpton's remarks--and sure enough, Sharpton apparently did not say those words at all. They were foisted onto him in a confusing paraphrase by the Associated Press, inserting the AP's own assumptions, which went well beyond what even a controversial advocate was willing to conjecture, with the result disguised as fact, in an article co-authored by "the AP's Race and Ethnicity Team." The lapse was not an isolated example in current AP reporting.

For generations, the Associated Press has been a bedrock element in American journalistic objectivity. Its willingness now to accuse choking on its own speculation--on the enthusiastic confidence of a witch hunt--suggests the extreme vulnerability of objective American discourse at this historical moment.

JE comments:  Scrutinizing the prosecution's arguments in the Chauvin trial is a risky exercise, as nobody wants to "defend" Chauvin with all the cultural baggage that this entails.  I'm of the "he sort of did it" camp, based on the obvious (if unprovable) counterfactual that had Floyd not been knelt on, he would be alive today.  But as Gary Moore demonstrates, this was not the prosecution's case.

Was the verdict correct?  I believe it was.  But did Chauvin get a fair trial?  Given the national outrage and racially charged significance of Floyd's death, there was probably no way he could have.

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  • Derek Chauvin and "But For" Causation (Cameron Sawyer, USA 04/30/21 3:21 AM)
    JE wrote on April 29th: "I'm of the Chauvin sort of did it" camp, based on the obvious (if unprovable) counterfactual that had Floyd not been knelt on, he would be alive today."

    In legal terms, that's called "'but for' causation," which has no legal significance. The example used to explain the concept when I was in law school in Ann Arbor about a million years ago, was a case in Singapore where an American was convicted of a crime when his car was rear-ended by a Singaporean driver, on the basis that had the foreigner not been in Singapore, the accident wouldn't have happened.

    But I am not in the "he sort of did it" camp at all.  To me, Chauvin's guilt is flagrant and obvious. There's another legal doctrine, called the "eggshell skull doctrine."  If you wrongfully strike a person, and the person is killed as a result, then you bear criminal responsibility for that death, even if the blow would not have caused the death in the case of a normal person with a skull of normal thickness--even if your victim has an "eggshell skull."

    I think in this case, even if Floyd's death was contributed to by drugs or heart condition (and I don't think that case was established, but even if)--then nevertheless Chauvin's acts were wrongful and carried out with evident cruelty, and so under our legal system he bears criminal responsibility for Floyd's death. The defense's arguments were exceptionally weak, lacking any merit which I could see, and the jury instruction "believe what you see on the video"--was not inappropriate. The viciousness with which Chauvin dealt with Floyd is evident in that video, and is legally relevant. The verdict is absolutely just.

    Convicting Chauvin and sending him away for a long prison sentence will do little to solve the bigger problem, which is the inordinate degree of criminality and violence in our society, and police procedures and values which exacerbate this pathology. I don't know what the solution is, but shaking up police procedure would be a good start.

    JE comments:  These two legal concepts ("but for" and "eggshell skull") are extremely helpful to understand this case, even if both can be taken to absurd extremes.  I didn't follow the trial, but was "eggshell skull" introduced by the prosecution?  I assume not, as classifying a victim in such terms would never be taken in the right way.

    We've heard the JD perspective on Floyd's death.  Next, Paul Pitlick gives us the MD view.

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  • George Floyd and the Pathology of Suffocation (Paul Pitlick, USA 04/30/21 3:51 AM)
    Frankly, I find it hard to follow the kind of argumentation presented by Gary Moore (April 29th), and I quit reading after a while.

    I didn't watch the Derek Chauvin trial very closely either. From what I read, the point of the defense was to confuse the jury. If only one juror has reservations, the defense "wins." That may have made sense when the constitution was written in the 18th century and our whole legal system was built up, but it seems to me that is a pretty shaky way to decide things of this magnitude.

    It's sort of medical dogma (I won't cite sources here, but they should be easy to find), that if a person's brain doesn't get oxygenated blood for about 4 minutes, it begins to be permanently damaged. The way the brain gets blood is that air (20% oxygen) goes through the nose/mouth, and through the trachea into the alveolae of the lungs. The alveolae are surrounded by capillaries that allow the oxygen in the air to diffuse into the blood (and at the same time allow carbon dioxide (CO2) to diffuse from the blood into the alveolae, where it is expelled in the breath out). From there, the oxygenated blood goes through the pulmonary veins, left heart, aorta and carotid arteries to get to the brain. In the brain, there are capillaries that allow the oxygen to diffuse into the brain tissue (and CO2 to diffuse out into the systemic venous blood). For a single molecule of oxygen, it takes somewhere in the ballpark of 6 to 10 seconds to get from the trachea to the brain.

    In the case of cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping, so no fresh blood will go to the brain. The person doesn't die immediately, but he/she will live only a few minutes. In the case of George Floyd, the trachea is pretty superficial. Put the tip of your finger in what is called the suprasternal notch, where the clavicles come together. Push--that's your trachea you are pushing on. So if you are lying on your side and someone puts his (let's face it, it is usually a male) knee on the side of your neck, your airway might not be obstructed. But if you are on your back and he puts his knee on the front of your neck, he will very likely obstruct your airway. Ditto face-down: a knee on the back of the neck may force the airway to be obstructed by the concrete. What happens if the airway is obstructed? No air in or out. While there is still some air in the lungs, it can't get replenished, so the oxygen will get sucked out and within probably 30 seconds or so, the arterial blood won't have much oxygen in it, plus CO2 will build up (also not healthy). The heart will beat for a while, so it will continue to pump de-oxygenated, acidic (high CO2) blood to the brain, body, abdominal viscera, and itself, but eventually it will stop also. And you die, period.

    This really isn't hard to understand. Of course, if your goal is to make it hard to understand, there are a lot of ways to confuse people.

    JE comments:  Dr Pitlick explains the science in the clearest possible terms.  This post should be required reading for every police recruit.  The question I keep coming back to is why, for any reason other than sadism, didn't Chauvin simply handcuff Floyd and put him in the squad car?

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    • Fentanyl, Claustrophobia, and George Floyd (David Duggan, USA 05/01/21 4:24 AM)
      John E (see Paul Pitlick, April 30th) asked why George Floyd was not simply handcuffed and placed in a squad car.

      He resisted and claimed claustrophobia in the police car, a common side effect of having ingested an almost lethal dose of fentanyl (11 nanograms/milliliter).

      JE comments:  The "fentanyl killed Floyd" argument has received wide distribution on social media.  The hypothesis has also been debunked, such as this recent article in USA Today:


      David Duggan doesn't go as far, citing an almost lethal dose.  It certainly proves that Floyd was no angel, but what else does it say?  That--gulp--Floyd had it coming?

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      • George Floyd and the "Nearly Lethal" Dose of Fentanyl (Paul Pitlick, USA 05/02/21 6:06 AM)
        I don't know if this is the point David Duggan wanted to make (May 1st), but if George Floyd really was under the influence of a "nearly lethal" dose of fentanyl, his respiratory status was likely already depressed, and he probably already had an elevated CO2 level. So a knee obstructing his airway would kill him even sooner.

        He probably wasn't thinking very well, also.

        JE comments:  This brings us back to the "eggshell skull" principle (Cameron Sawyer, April 30th).  If you missed it the first time, click below:


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        • We Don't Really Know How Floyd Died (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 05/04/21 4:29 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          A conciliatory way to see Paul Pitlick's (May 2) statement that George Floyd died from "a knee obstructing his airway" might be to think of that phrasing as perhaps being understandably general symbolism, somewhat like Genesis as allegory, rather than a pinched literalism on Adam's rib.

          A case could be argued that for a typical concerned citizen, ill-placed to wade through the mind-numbingly lengthy discussions in the Derek Chauvin trial, or other evidence on how George Floyd died last May 25, the mental image of a "knee obstructing his airway" might work well enough as a symbolic package, packaging a more complex reality. Contested by no one in the case is the general reality that Floyd died in police custody, and under markedly prolonged restraint. Meanwhile, frustratingly few physiological clues were left behind to prove the exact mechanism that caused the detainee to suddenly fade from life. What was visible to anyone, however, was the most glaring image in the case, arousing much of the world via viral cellphone video. Everyone has been able to see the method of restraint: a knee holding down Floyd's neck as he lay horizontal. So really, is it so great a leap to package this as also surely revealing the cause of death, and saying that the knee must have done it, by squeezing shut the throat and cutting off Floyd's air supply: "obstructing his airway"?

          Unfortunately, seemingly miniscule leaps of assumption, taking confirmation from impassioned bodies of like-minded opinion, also form the rumor-like mechanism of lynch mobs. The May 25 cellphone video, spanning the globe on Facebook within a day, presented a remarkably shocking image: white aggressor towering over prostrate black target, almost supernaturally like the war-rousing 1852 lithograph in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The general impression from the video was so assaultive that it could take precedence over what one was actually seeing. In late May and June 2020, an outcry was seemingly everywhere, including in prestigious circles, that said George Floyd had been choked to death--because everyone could see the knee.

          It can now feel almost heretically impertinent to point out what the real video really does show. The knee is not on Floyd's throat. It is on the back and side of his neck, where it would have been impossible to squeeze shut the airway--unless with such industrial-sized force that the entire neck would be horribly mangled--which it was not. Autopsy showed no neck damage at all, not even slight subcutaneous bruising. The video, though shockingly difficult to watch, shows the restrainee's head moving repeatedly as the knee remains poised mostly on and above the hard back of the neck, in a long-accepted and long-taught Minneapolis Police Department restraint position, called conscious neck restraint. The emphasis in the term is on "conscious," for this is not a chokehold, and is not aimed at causing loss of consciousness.

          But to make that assertion now, in the face of aroused opinion, can sound like heretical nitpicking--or worse, like sleazy denialist nitpicking. The articles of faith on the knee, by now widely ingrained, work backward from a conviction that "everyone knows" the knee choked him to death, so that any disturbing new evidence must be fitted into the known--or rejected as sinister. Dr. Pitlick scoffed (April 30) that he could not understand my (regrettably) long sentences seeking to bring some of these issues to light. He stopped reading halfway through, he said sharply, since what I was saying just didn't make sense to him. My rambling syntax aside, it's not new that a no-win game falls to the village skeptic who might try to point out that the revered churchyard statue didn't really weep after all: the counter-argument can be forced into such lengthiness, in order to meet massive orthodoxy, that it can die of sputtering tedium...somewhat as with the sputtering right here?

          Meanwhile, none of this is an argument about guilt or blame. The leap over the real evidence on George Floyd is enabled in the first place because, despite all the shouting on all sides, we don't really know the specific mechanism by which death came. The two most popular candidates for explanation, sudden cardiac arrest (heart) or fatal asphyxia (lungs) are both notorious in forensic circles as culprits that often leave no physiological fingerprints--throwing open discussion to activists, armchair theorists and litigators who might prefer one explanation or another for unspoken personal reasons. Overtly and publicly, however, their arguments have to weave together circumstantial evidence--evidence appearing not in the case itself but in background material or cases looking similar to the one at issue, to suggest seemingly pertinent inferences. Plenty of room left for shouting.

          And room for the symbolic packaging idea on "a knee obstructing his airway." But the problem is, reductionism can eat away at something not shown by any video: the standards of honest discourse.

          JE comments:  If we don't know the "mechanism" that led to Floyd's death, doesn't that also mean there is reasonable doubt about Chauvin's contribution to this death?  Possibly, Gary, and I have acknowledged that the accused could never receive a truly fair trial.  But then there's that video...

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          • Should Police Be Held to a Higher Legal Standard? (Paul Pitlick, USA 05/07/21 3:12 AM)
            I'll start this post by reminding people that the police kill about 1000 Americans every year. Few are ever held to account.

            In response to Gary Moore (May 4th), I usually enjoy his posts, and the detail which he provides. I made the mistake of conflating his post with the American legal system. One reason I like WAIS is, in fact, for the detail which various authors provide about topics that they are familiar with. We can have a healthy discussion about topics that may be confusing, and so be it. However, I have a problem with a legal system which seeks to confuse, rather than educate, a jury.

            My ideas about the jury system were formed by experiences I've had as a potential juror.

            Case 1. Off-duty policeman accused of beating a girlfriend. We were told that police are like anyone else, and their behavior should be judged by the same standards as anyone else. Personally, I think that's wrong. With the power police have, I think they must be held to a higher expectation (lawyers may disagree with that--fine, it's my opinion).

            Case 2. Spousal abuse and a Russian emigre couple. In the preliminary screening I was asked a hypothetical question--if there was an injury, and if one of the jurors asked me if I, as a physician, thought that what was described made sense, what would I do? Politically correct answer: refuse to answer. My own thought is that if a juror has supplemental information that wasn't discussed at the trial, he/she should be allowed to share it.

            Case 3. In these cases, the final preliminary question was, "If you think the defendant broke the law, but the law was unjust, would you vote to convict him/her?" Politically correct answer: "Yes." My answer is another question: "Would I have voted to convict Rosa Parks?"

            In summary, when you look at how our society functions, there have been massive changes in the sectors of agriculture, transportation, industry, medicine, finance, etc., etc., since 1789, when the Constitution went into effect. Courts need to be upgraded--police cases should be tried in special courts, where the jurors already know a lot about how police should behave. The idea that jurors would be confused at the end of a trial should not be an option.

            JE comments:  Paul, the Rosa Parks hypothetical really makes one think.  You touch on the age-old distinction between what is "right" (lawful) and what is "good" (just).  The passage of time brings clarity to this, such as with Rosa Parks, Dred Scott, or the legal principles tested at Nuremberg.  But in the moment there's another variable:  what is easiest.  Standing up for the "good" often brings ostracism, loss of livelihood, even punishment.

            Somehow I've made it this far without being called to jury duty.  Nobody wants to listen to the opinions of a humanities professor.

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            • Between the Scylla and Charybdis: on Discussing Sensitive Issues (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 05/10/21 4:15 AM)

              Gary Moore writes:

              My thanks to Paul Pitlick (May 7) for his gracious comment on my posts.

              The George Floyd case and related controversies provide a crucial opportunity for WAIS to explore the most effective approaches to extremely sensitive public issues, where passions might easily grow to the point of preventing communication. Our moderator's fine hand seems to be successfully steering the Forum through the narrow chasm between the Charybdis of eerily inert avoidance and the Scylla of similarly unseeing passion. (Now if I can just navigate my long sentences...)

              JE comments:  Thank you, Gary.  The Charybdis is certainly the easier route here, as avoiding hot-button issues doesn't involve stepping on anyone's toes.  But the Goodship WAIS prefers to aim for the Scylla--rougher but far more interesting seas!

              Scylla and Charybdis--wondering how often this Homeric trope comes up on WAIS? Exactly four times including today.  Here's a pre-Millennial reference from 1999:


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              • Scylla? Or Charybdis? You Decide (David Duggan, USA 05/11/21 3:53 AM)
                As for Scylla and Charybdis, I believe John E inverted the metaphors.

                Charybdis was the whirlpool which risked destroying the entire craft and crew; Scylla was the 6-headed monster (an anthropomorphism of a six-rocked shoal between Sicily and Calabria) who would pluck seamen from the decks. Charybdis is metaphorically not the "easier route," and Scylla is not the "rougher seas."

                JE comments:  Gary Moore's S & C had to do specifically with WAIS.  By Charybdis he meant avoiding the discussion of hot-button social issues, while Gary's Scylla referred to turning the Forum into an ideological shouting match--hence the rougher seas.

                Ever having a bad day?  Be thankful you don't have to face the Scylla!

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    • George Floyd and the Drug Question; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/02/21 4:20 AM)
      Gary Moore writes:

      While negotiating with our esteemed moderator (and justifiably esteemed) on how sharp a reply I will be allowed to make to Paul Pitlick's sharp comments (April 30th) on my George Floyd post, I saw that a related post by David Duggan has just brought quite a tart and dismissive reply from our same moderator.

      On this I sent John a letter with some facts he seemed to have missed in that regard--a very hurried letter for private consumption--but now it occurs to me, with my reply on the earlier exchange postponed, this private letter might as well be public, posted on the Forum, with all its hurried imperfections:

      John: I just saw your reply to David Duggan on the fentanyl ingested by George Floyd prior to his death. At first I couldn't believe your reply would so confidently sweep aside that issue, but then I saw your referenced USA Today article and thought of that article through your eyes: the eyes of a concerned and generally informed citizen who has got to get the interpretations somewhere--and from that perspective, nothing in the article seems to raise red flags. But in fact, the whole thing is a red herring, fastening on the ridiculous assertion that the 11 ng/mL of fentanyl in George Floyd's system could have killed three men, and then refuting that exaggeration, together with similar exercises.

      Look, the issue is that Floyd's long-term abuse of so many drugs that no one can easily count them (including documented PCP and "purple drank" codeine as well as so much meth he had to go to detox for it, along with 6 to 8 Perks a day, and being caught a year previously with crack cocaine, cocaine powder, and 318 oxycodone pills) could easily militate toward cardiac arrest when shocked by an additional 11 ng/mL of fentanyl--which is a large amount, though a conditioned and physically large user like Floyd might conceivably survive that amount in isolation--if not for the meth he took with it, and all the history. The USA Today article, self-righteously avoiding all this in its woefully caricatured "fact-checking," was one more expression of a dawning orthodoxy that feels itself everywhere confirmed. I've had to walk through the fire of seeing that the journalism underpinning my own professional assumptions is not what I had thought--at least on certain key issues where a certain comforting orthodoxy is to be defended. (I can define for you what I think that orthodoxy is, but why do it now?)

      Unfortunately, getting the truth on these issues is not as simple as turning to the media that avoid the gaping inconveniences--and the alternative lies buried in another kind of wilderness like Fox. This is not fair that a citizen might be left with few reliable authorities to rely on--but that doesn't make the voices like the USA Today article true.

      You know what happened to Rodney King? Remember him? The guy whose rampage caused a city to burn and 50 deaths, all because of the unfair assertion he was on PCP? Turned out later he was a recurrent PCP addict, who kept running into things with his car, and finally one night (with his hefty settlement money for supposed injustice) he was out at his swimming pool, just smoking a little marijuana (nothing life-threatening), when he suddenly melted down, terrifying his girlfriend as he banged on a glass door while his underwear inexplicably was around his knees, then stumbling and screaming off to the pool, where he fell in and died--either from cardiac arrest or drowning hastened by cardiac arrest. Was it the marijuana that killed him? In the world of that USA Today article (whose whole mindset is avoidance) all you would have needed is a couple of cops on-scene (the girlfriend did soon call them) and we would have the cops blamed for what was in fact quite similar to many other such deaths, when an abused physiological system suddenly hits that last bump.

      We shouldn't have to live in a world where there is no convenient authority to trust on certain heavily avoided key issues. We should complain to somebody.

      JE comments:  Gary, by orthodoxy do you mean the fear that dwelling on Floyd's drug use leads to the suggestion that he deserved his fate, which leads to the larger fear of being accused of racism?  It's a slippery slope, akin to "victim blaming" for sexual assault, on the grounds that the victim was out on the town, drunk and provocatively dressed.

      In symbolically charged cases like the Floyd murder, it takes time and (especially) courage to scrutinize the evidence.  The impossible challenge is to remove politics and the "culture wars" from the process.  You have kept us honest by striving to do just that.

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      • George Floyd's Drug Habits are Legally Irrelevant (Cameron Sawyer, USA 05/04/21 3:59 AM)
        Gary Moore (May 2nd) provides a lot of detail about George Floyd's drug habits.

        Whether or not George Floyd was a drug addict, no matter how extravagant his drug habits might have been, is legally irrelevant. There is no exception in the laws against murder, for murdering drug addicts, or for that matter, for murdering bad people. George Floyd may or may not have been a drug addict, he may or may not have even been a good person, but none of that changes Chauvin's guilt by one iota.

        Talking about Floyd's drug habits is just an attempt to smear the victim, to make the crime seem, on a visceral level, less heinous. It's a bit like the so-called "he needed killin'" defense, where judges, during more primitive times in our history, sometimes ignored the law and let off murderers when the person killed was someone felt to be particularly egregious. But there is no such defense at law. The elements of the crime of second degree murder are: (a) killing a human being; (b) intentionally or with reckless disregard for human life; and (c) without legal justification. Legal justifications for killing a human being are typically (a) war; (b) self-defense within the legal definition; (c) use of force by a law enforcement officer, where the force is "no more than absolutely necessary"; (d) necessity. Note that nothing about the character or morals of the victim, or his/her drug habits or criminal record, forms any part of any justification for homicide.

        JE comments:  Cameron, Gary Moore never hinted at a "needed killin'" interpretation, although he does suggest that Floyd's drug use may have contributed significantly to his death.  This would be more in the category you addressed in your last post, the "eggshell skull" doctrine.

        Very soon (May 25th) the murder will mark its first anniversary.  We've seen a heck of a lot of history since then.  In the next WAIS entry, Gary further scrutinizes the crime scene.

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        • Citing Floyd's Drug Use Does Not Mean He "Deserved" to Die (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 05/05/21 6:32 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          Is Cameron Sawyer (May 4th) accusing me of saying drug addicts should be killed? Whoa. Something very poisonous--but unfortunately very important--is going on here. We're left with the vehemence in the eruption and its baffling irrelevance to what I did say (and thanks to John E for gently pointing out that irrelevance in his comment).

          One way to read the response I awakened is that what I did say was so difficult to confront that it had to be swept off the table--by putting a completely different argument into my mouth, and then responding to that. Which might be startling enough, but there's also the fact that the argument that was put into my mouth is reprehensible. The accuser edged toward fulminating that anyone saying what I had just said was really advocating that "bad people" deserve to die. Whoa again (and for the record, testimony seems to agree that George Floyd, in personal interactions, was far from being a "bad person," but was often kind and considerate--and all that has no bearing whatever on how a drug-ravaged body fits into cause of death).

          That a towering intellect would grow so irrational as to despise me on unrelated grounds is certainly a subject worthy of further scrutiny. But who would have the wisdom?

          And by the way, if Cameron thought my drug list on Floyd was intolerable as posted in the Forum, he should have seen the addendum, sent privately to JE as an afterthought--on more drugs. It went something like this:

          I forgot heroin, the drug that sent Floyd to the hospital with an overdose on March 6, less than three months before his death, in pain so severe that he was doubled over, too incapacitated to drive to the hospital. Along with the more discussed drugs in his system at the May 25 death (fentanyl and methamphetamine) there was free morphine, a metabolite of heroin, meaning ingestion at a point leading up to May 25, along with the meth and fentanyl ingested on the day itself, and marijuana. It hasn't been reported which of these drugs might have been involved the preceding January when, in rapid succession, Floyd was pulled over for speeding and lacking proper licensing, and then a few days later crashed into a vehicle at a stoplight, saying he had fallen asleep. Should we censor from the picture of his bodily state at death the fact that fentanyl-meth pills were proved by his DNA and saliva to have actually been in his mouth during the bizarre shouting eruption that began his death?

          The larger question--the intractable cultural question--is why such censoring of the picture exists, and why any attempt to paint a full picture is called unfair sniping. County Councilwoman Angela Conley tried to get Medical Examiner Andrew Baker fired for honestly including the drug levels in Floyd's autopsy. The reasoning seems to go something like this: The cops choked him, so any mention of drugs is shielding the chokers--so it's not lying at all to hide the drugs; it's being noble. Baker is one of the most noted pathologists in the country, specializing specifically in asphyxia, and he came within a hair of losing his job [June 9 - June 11]--because he was honest.

          JE comments:  I'd like to be the peacemaker here, but it's a tall order.  If there's one thing we've learned in the last year, it's that medicine and politics are inextricably linked.  Primarily regarding Covid, but also tangentially in the George Floyd case.  Interestingly, the expected political divide does no apply to the Moore-Sawyer polemic.  Gary's arguments are not of the usual "they should just behave" type, and Cameron in turn is anything but a knee-jerk "snowflake."

          So, can we just all get along?

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