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Friday, February 16, 2024

Back to Minneapolis

 In December I posted about the controversy over the death of George Floyd and the guilt or innocence of the police officers who were convicted of his murder, drawing in part--but only in part--on two podcasts  by Glenn Loury.  Their position, which I endorsed to some extent, has been sharply critiqued in a long substack post by Radley Balko, an investigative journalist specializing in criminal justice.  This post focused on the issue of whether the knee that Chauvin placed on Floyd's back, shoulder, and neck was part of an approved Minneapolis police technique.  Balko makes a strong case that while recommended procedures included a brief use of such a technique, they did not call for the sustained use that Chauvin made.  

Balko has now published another post on a much more critical question: what the original medical examiner's autopsy report actually said and what we really know about how Floyd died.  This is also a well-documented discussion that argues, in effect, that a great preponderance of evidence--including evidence from other cases--tells us that Floyd died of asphyxiation caused by Chauvin's pressure on his back and/or neck, but which also confirms the original statements of the medical examiner that his autopsy--the only autopsy actually performed--found no physical evidence of asphyxiation.  A prosecutor named Amy Sweasy Tamburino who spoke to Dr. Baker, the medical examiner, after his death, wrote immediately that Baker told her, “The autopsy revealed no physical evidence suggesting that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxiation,” and that “if Mr. Floyd had been found dead in his home (or anywhere else) and there were no other contributing factors he would conclude that it was an overdose death.”  He also frankly expressed his worries that what he had found did not match the established "public narrative" in the case--that Chauvin had murdered Floyd.  Balko defends Baker's eventual decision that his death was indeed a homicide, however, on the grounds that evidence not related to the autopsy strongly supports it.

The key to this argument is the statement, confirmed by several experts in the field, that one can die of asphyxiation without having one's airway completely cut off.  One can apparently be breathing, but so shallowly that not enough oxygen gets into the body because of pressure on the diaphragm.  This is among other things another commentary on how the public seizes on the most emotional explanation of events.  Tens of millions of people think Floyd died because of pressure on his neck, but although Balko doesn't say this in so many words, his explanation suggests that pressure on his back, leading to pressure on his diaphragm, killed him.  Balko argues that this is a more plausible explanation of Floyd's death than a fentanyl overdose, because the level of fentanyl in Floyd's body was one that an addict could tolerate and because he was not behaving like someone who had overdosed.  This seems to me a strong argument, and, frankly, a conclusion that a jury should be entitled to reach, but because it falls short of a medical certainty--as Dr. Baker's comments made very clear--the controversy will continue forever.

In their last joint appearance Glenn Loury and John McWhorter repudiated, to varying degrees, some of what they said in the earlier podcasts on the case.  I too now wish that I had been more skeptical about the revisionist argument and I have done my best to make u for that here.  One one point, however, I still disagree with Balko.  He thinks that the public reaction to Floyd's death has done good. I don't.  For me, it is part of another great American tragedy.


CrocodileChuck said...

The first statement Mr. Floyd made after being ordered by Police to get in the back seat of their vehicle:

"I can't breathe"

Energyflow said...

Every so often it seems that this occurs in the black inner cities after an ugly incident. Only this time it was instrumentalized by certain people into truly nationwide riots. BLM, Soros funded groups, antifa all joined in with the motto "don't let a good crisis go to waste". Billions in property damages and many deaths resulted.