GEORGE FLOYD REVISITED THROUGH LEGAL EYES

By COURTENAY BARNETT

I have an interest in economics – so I read various economists’ articles and commentaries. One such economist is Dr. Paul Craig Roberts. I do not necessarily agree with his dominant points of view, but I am still interested, from a technical point of view in his analysis of economic issues of the day. Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Ronald Reagan administration and was and is a supply-side economist. 

Roberts also makes commentaries on a number of prevailing social issues of the day, which brought him to the issue of the death of George Floyd. While I summarise and make selective reference to his commentary, I believe it only fair that he can be read in his own words ( see below – first link).

In his article Roberts provides a link to the official Medical Examiner’s Report which, interestingly, does not cite asphyxia as the cause of George Floyd’s death. Asphyxia, of course, is defined as deprivation of oxygen to the body which leads to either unconsciousness or death. Also, it refers to suffocation – so the person might very well say, when still conscious, “ I can’t breathe”.   So, let us reason on:-

“ The title says that the ability of the police to deal with Floyd was complicated by Floyd’s undergoing cardiopulmonary arrest …”.

“ Note the extensive heart disease that Floyd had…” ( he goes on to list same).

“ No life-threatening injuries identified” ( very interesting observation this one – to which I shall return).

“ A press release was issued from Hennepin County that lists ‘Manner of death: Homicide.’ This is a puzzle. Homicide is not supported by the medical examiner’s report.”

Let me stop there ( you can read Dr. Roberts  full  article below at the  first link). What I shall now do is make light then get serious. I am not a stranger to arguing cases of murder.

Let us say that a wife is a heavy smoker and a very heavy drinker ( i.e. she ingests two licit substances in excess on a regular basis). She and her husband have an altercation. The dispute escalates into physical violence. The husband grabs the wife by the neck and squeezes tightly. As he squeezes, all is caught on video. The wife is heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” The wife is seen to collapse about 9 minutes after the husband first held her neck. She is shortly thereafter pronounced dead.

I am retained to defend the husband on a murder charge. The case is presented and it is time for the defence to address the jury and I rise and say:-

“ Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution has argued that my client committed murder. I am stating categorically to you that he did not. I take you directly to the Medical Examiner’s Report which states, “ … that the ability of the ( Defendant) to deal with ( his wife) was complicated…”; “ Note the extensive heart disease that ( the wife) had”; “No life-threatening injuries identified”.  In the annals of murder trials – this shall be the shortest address on record, for by reference to the medical report – simply stated the only correct verdict I suggest to you as I appeal to your intelligence and sense of justice is a verdict that – my client did not commit murder.  I rest my client’s case in your capable and just hands.”

Now – I accept that Dr. Paul Craig Roberts did not utter the words above – but he might as well just have done so. So, why does he think in the way he does? I shall go wide to come narrow to the point that he is a well educated White Southerner from Georgia. I do not for a moment suggest that all White, well educated persons from Georgia are inclined to think and conclude as Dr. Roberts did. But, I shall share a couple of true experiences and you can then draw your own conclusions.

The man from whom I learned the effective application of law in complex international legal cases: As still a young lawyer in my twenties I had the opportunity to work in International law Chambers in London. The man under whom I worked was exceptionally helpful to me. I learned a lot of my skill set in that arena from him and remain grateful to this day. He later became a commercial Judge in England and is now retired. My loyalty is such that I do not call his name. We became friends and he visited me in Jamaica with his family on vacation. Once he invited me to stay with him on a visit to London and the story I share here relates to that stay.

There was a case of the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanting to prevent publication of a book entitled ‘Spy Catcher’, written by a retried MI6 agent named Peter Wright. Wright had included some information in the book which Thatcher found embarrassing and she wanted to silence and stop publication in Australia and elsewhere. My friend informed me of a dramatised version of the trial in Australia, faithful to the court proceedings records, which was being broadcast at the time I was staying with him. So, as lawyers, we sat together in his living room and watched the TV and a dramatic portion of which was the cross-examination conducted by Wright’s Counsel, Malcolm Turnbull, who grilled the official representative of Her Majesty’s Government. Turnbull’s thrust was that nothing was new in the book and that all the details which were opposed by Thatcher had previously been cleared by HMG for that and other books by other authors, had been published and had not been deemed to be in contravention of the UK’s Official Secrets Act. When Turnbull was finished the official, quite frankly, seemed quite stupid in respect of the questions being raised ( see the Guardian on point below). Now, to my point:-

My friend: “Didn’t Sir ( so and so) stand up brilliantly under cross-examination?”

 I was taken aback by the comment for the opposite was quite the truth. So, why did he say that? I never replied to him on the point, but did fully understand – White, English, Conservative English pride – my side is never stupid and cannot be seen to be wrong. See: Guardian commentary below.

The next instance I reference was a hearing on the death of the African activist in South Africa under Apartheid, Steve Biko. The lawyers for the deceased Biko brilliantly brought out, by way of cross-examination of the Apartheid authorities and jailers that Biko had been tortured and killed. The official Apartheid medical records directed attention to a hunger strike and ‘suicide.’

By reference to the two instances cited above, in the US in the year 2020, I must therefore ask three  questions:-

  1. Is it the medical report upon which we must rely but not ask – if there is a knee of a heavy set man placed on a human being’s windpipe for 9 minutes – is the proximate cause of death asphyxia – or – is it as Dr. Roberts and the Medical Examiner would have us believe?
  2. Is it that George Floyd had decided to commit ‘suicide’ and was fortunate and got a little extra assistance from a police officer the day he died?
  3. Or, is it that in the US in 2020 there is a repressive state which, as in Biko’s case, displays a failure of the government-employed doctors to analyse in a manner which is rational and medically credible and consistent with the known evidence?

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P.S. I well and truly give Dr. Roberts a ‘gold medal’ for this comment in his article:-

“ As far as I can ascertain, these are the prescribed procedures. The reason for Floyd being kept on his stomach is that “fentanyl’s effects include nausea.”

See “The Medical Examiner’s Report of George Floyd’s Death,” by Paul Craig Roberts – at PaulCraigRoberts.orgat  https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2020/07/08/the-medical-examiners-report-of-george-floyds-death/  .

See “From Spycatcher to prime minister: the Malcolm Turnbull I knew,” by Richard Norton-Taylor, THE GUARDIAN, at

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/14/malcolm-turnbull-spycatcher-lawyer-prime-minister .

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COURTENAY BARNETT is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over thirty years, and has argued public interest and human rights cases. He has published several articles in the Effective Learning Report. He lives and works in the Caribbean