Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Chauvin trial II / Follow-up: Utterly insufficient data, insight, and thought

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As an addendum to my last text:

A particular dangerous and dishonest part of the prosecution’s rhetoric is the whole “believe your eyes” sloganeering. The entire issue with this trial is that just looking at the video evidence gives a simplistic view of events. Indeed, in [1] I discussed lack of insight and thought as a society wide problem and exemplified it with the (long before trial) interpretations of the Chauvin–Floyd events that did not consider e.g. complications through drugs.

That the prosecution continues to push this simplistic angle is both depressing and a sign that its case is comparatively weak. Still, as demonstrated by O.J. and that glove, such sloganeering can be effective—no matter how cheap and misleading.

What our eyes tells us is very often not reliable—something many observant children pick up from optical illusions.* Apart from such directly misleading optical impressions, we have to consider both that other sources of evidence can be relevant in order to understand the situation and (often overlapping) that the “raw” evidence at hand might need interpretation in order to reach a correct understanding.

*For instance, the famous picture that shows a young or an old lady depending on how it is viewed, or those lines who look different in size but are measurably identical. Indeed, the Chauvin-trial provides an interesting example of such an easy illusion, too, in that some scenes where Chauvin’s knee appears to be on Floyd’s neck suddenly show the knee on Floyd’s shoulder when a different camera angle is used. (According to written reporting. I have not verified this, myself.) Or what about that dress where viewers cannot even agree on the color?

To take another example for children: when I was around five, I was at a public swimming pool with my family. I and my sister were given money to use a pop-corn machine of some sort. As my cup was almost full, I began to worry that it would over-flow, that I must somehow manually tell the machine to stop. I did the most naturally thing that came to me and lifted up the see-through flap in front of my cup. The pop-corn flow immediately stopped. My sister was up next. I told her that she could or should stop the flow by lifting the flap when she felt that she had enough. She did so earlier than I had—and an UNinterrupted flow of pop-corn spilled onto the ground.

The reason: I had neither considered all the available evidence, nor considered the evidence in light of reason. If I had, I would have noted that there was no obvious mechanism that allowed the flap to interrupt the flow, I would have considered e.g. a coincidence, and I would have contemplated the possibility that there was some type of automatic termination once a certain quantity had been dispensed. From an adult perspective, what happened with my pop-corn was that I began to fear an over-flow once the limits of the cup were reached, which is when the machine, by design, terminated the flow.

Unfortunately, this type of simplistic thinking, the taking of a superficial impression and jumping to conclusions, is extremely common. Good example include many abused statistics, e.g. the 77 cents on the dollar fraud and the (relevant to the Chauvin-trial) claims of “racial discrimination” or “systemic racism” that note e.g. that Blacks are over- or underrepresented relative their proportion of the overall population without considering more relevant sub-populations,* differences in individual behavior,** and similar.

*E.g. that a better baseline for deaths of ethnicity X at the hand of the police is the proportion of hard criminals of ethnicity X—not the proportion of ethnicity X in the overall population. E.g. that a college cannot be faulted for admitting students at a rate that corresponds to the proportions among those who have GPA’s and SAT scores above a certain level—not proportions in the overall population.

**Often overlapping with the previous footnote: If someone engages in criminal behavior, tries to resist arrest, whatnot, the risk of dying in a police incident is increased very considerably. If someone does not work hard in high school the chance of college admission is diminished accordingly.

Finally, concerning the guilt-or-not-guilt of Chauvin vs. the settlement: In my previous text, I mentioned that “Moreover, while the burden of proof is lower in a civil suit, an acquittal of Chauvin (just wait a few weeks for Pete’s sake!) could have been a strong indication of a rejection of damages or an awarding of a much smaller amount in court.”. While I stand by that claim (and by the claim that the amount of the settlement was absurd), I should add that there are at least two other factors than burden of proof that could justify a payment, even should Chauvin be acquitted: Firstly, it is not uncommon that restitution is justified even absent criminal guilt.* Secondly, if Chauvin was acquitted e.g. due to having followed protocol, this would not automatically imply that the protocol was reasonable and conscionable. If the protocol was then found to be flawed, the city could still be culpable.

*Consider accidentally breaking the neighbor’s window while playing baseball, for a trivial example and to stick with the theme of children.


Written by michaeleriksson

April 20, 2021 at 10:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] For now, I will not comment further on the verdict or trial, as my take is sufficiently documented in Parts I and II. […]

  2. […] us say that the Chauvin trial ([1], [2], [3]) was fair—despite my considerable […]

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