The Hennepin County medical examiner has released his final autopsy findings as they relate to the death of George Floyd, and they shed a whole star’s worth of new light on the death that launched a thousand protests. While the medical examiner’s office maintains that Floyd died as a result of police-inflicted “homicide,” the full chronicle of health problems suffered by Officer Derek Chauvin’s victim can’t help but cast some doubt on whether or not the attending police are getting a raw deal. Are these Minneapolis officers subject to the justice they deserve…or is this more about satisfying a violent, out-of-control mob?
Reasonable people may agree that Chauvin had no business holding his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, during which time he ignored Floyd’s pleas for oxygen. Few would argue that Chauvin was mistreated when he lost his job with the department, especially when you take his problematic history into account. And, perhaps, it was even necessary and just to charge Chauvin with a crime.
But we have to wonder: If treated in the same manner, would a halfway-healthy suspect have died? Is this a relevant question to ask?
If so, it’s certainly open to some debate. According to the medical examiner, Floyd suffered from “severe” coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and hypertension. He also had an enlarged heart. Could these factors have contributed to the “cardiopulmonary arrest” he suffered while being restrained by police?
What about the fact that he had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his bloodstream at the time of his death? How might that have affected his chances of surviving a strenuous situation?
How did his infection with and recovery from COVID-19 affect his overall health?
What are we to make of the medical examiner’s finding that “no life-threatening injuries were identified” on Floyd’s body?
Now, let’s be clear. Even taking all of this into account, it does not excuse Officer Chauvin’s actions. It does not make the video of Floyd’s arrest any easier to watch. It may not even inhibit the anger felt by millions of black Americans.
However, these are factors that must be – and will be – taken into consideration by the jury that decides Chauvin’s legal fate, as well as those of his fellow officers. And if that jury determines, based on this evidence, that a reasonably-healthy individual would have easily survived this encounter with Minneapolis Police, does it make sense to convict Chauvin of 2nd degree murder?
And lurking behind that question: What happens to our country if they don’t?