The video of George Floyd’s murder has traveled around the world. A white police officer held Floyd to the ground with his knee on his throat for over eight minutes, even as Floyd repeated the words, “I can’t breathe.” That phrase has come to embody the black experience in America as thousands of protesters continue to hit the streets all over the country to decry institutional racism and police brutality.
We now know more about exactly how George Floyd died. There have been two confirmed autopsies since his death, but they paint a very different picture of what happened on the ground on Monday, May 25th in Minneapolis, MN.
Two Autopsies, Two Different Stories
We heard two different versions of George Floyd’s death on Monday. The first came from an independent autopsy commissioned by the family of George Floyd. It was conducted by Dr. Allecia Wilson and Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner of New York City. Baden also oversaw the autopsy of Eric Garner, who died on Staten Island back in 2014 after an officer put him in an illegal chokehold for attempting to sell a single loose cigarette.
The independent autopsy found that George Floyd died as a result of mechanical asphyxiation via compression on his neck and back from the officer, which interfered with blood flow and his breathing. This autopsy places blame directly on the officer in question, in this case Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck in the video, who was charged last week with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
However, the autopsy released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office tells a different story. It says that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” The report confirms Floyd died of homicide, but the examining officer added a note that says, “this is not a legal determination of culpability or intent.”
The family of George Floyd commissioned an independent autopsy after the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office released a preliminary report that “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”
Where Does the Investigation Go from Here?
Based on these reports, it looks as if we’re in for a contentious legal battle. The autopsy released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office suggests that Derek Chauvin did not cut off George Floyd’s air flow with malicious intent. The defense representing Chauvin may try to use the note at the end of the autopsy to argue that he was not aware of what he was doing when George Floyd died.
Prosecutors will likely lean on the independent autopsy as a way of placing blame on Chauvin. Floyd died of mechanical asphyxiation and, as we can see on the video, Chauvin didn’t let up for over eight minutes even as Floyd pleaded for air. This contradicts the autopsy released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office. Obviously, Chauvin had malicious intent if he directly ignored George Floyd’s pleas for help for minutes on end.
This is just another example of how medical autopsies can be misinterpreted by the authorities, especially in incidents that involve police officers. While both autopsies suggest that Floyd died of homicide, they differ widely in terms of language. The independent autopsy ascribes blame to Chauvin, while the other does not.
This shows us why the families of victims often feel the need to commission independent autopsies as a way of getting access to the truth. If we want justice for George Floyd, we need to make sure the facts are on our side. Medical coroners should always be impartial when conducting their investigations.