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Post George Floyd and the "Nearly Lethal" Dose of Fentanyl
Created by John Eipper on 05/02/21 6:06 AM

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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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