Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota

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

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

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As the Chauvin trial is approaching final arguments, I will summarize my view in advance, to avoid the risk of later rationalization (or accusation of such).

In my past writings, there have been several mentions, probably most notably in [1], more than nine months ago:*

*Footnotes of the original text have not been duplicated. Please see the original text for these, the full context, etc.

From what I know at this stage, it is possible that even a drugged and unhealthy Floyd would have survived without the knee, but it is also possible that he would have died anyway. Remove the knee, and he might or might not have lived. Remove the drugs, and he might or might not have lived. Remove his health problems, and he might or might not have lived.

On the outside, it seems extremely likely that Chauvin, the “knee”, had no intention of causing death or permanent harm. Indeed, if he did, he would have to be Darwin-Award level stupid to do what he did on camera and in front of witnesses. Certainly, I have not seen one shred of proof that the event was motivated by racism. (Also see an earlier text on this situation.)

In a sane society, we might right now have an objective debate about what police methods are or are not safe, demeaning, whatnot. What we do have are near-blanket condemnations of “racist murder”, “institutional racism”, “racist police”, etc.—not to mention riots and looting.

I am going to go as far as to say that, unless further evidence appears and provided that the trial is fair, Chauvin will ultimately be acquitted of any murder charge, simply because there is next to no possibility to gain “beyond reasonable doubt” if even half of the “off screen” claims are true. There might or might not be room for a manslaughter conviction or some relatively lesser crime (reckless endangerment?), but not murder.

From what I have read* about the trial (in general) and testimony (in particular) so far, I see these claims broadly validated.

*See excursion for partial sources.

The scope of Chauvin’s guilt might (or might not*) be a little larger than I thought, in that he might (or might not*) have violated departmental procedures or shown poor judgment. However: Firstly, there is no indication whatsoever of e.g. a “mens rea”, a deliberate attempt to kill, or similar. (And certainly not of racism.) At worst, his actions might have been incompetent or negligent. Secondly, even if his actions were incompetent or negligent, I have not seen more than claims that he was a contributor to the death of Floyd. Considering the overall circumstances, including potentially lethal levels of drugs in Floyd’s system, it would be virtually impossible to see Chauvin’s contribution as proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. This brings me to my thirdly—the burden of proof is on the prosecution and the required level of proof is “beyond reasonable doubt”**. If it had been “balance of probabilities”, Chauvin might (or might not*) have risked a conviction even in a fair trial, but with “beyond reasonable doubt” there are simply too many points that are not sufficiently proved.

*Different expert testimonials have made different claims, and quite a few factors have to be weighed in, including what the exact procedures are, how a reasonable police officer would have seen the situation, whether Floyd could have been a threat to himself or others at a given time, whether there was reason to fear danger from the crowd, etc. I do not have the depth of knowledge to judge this. I do note, however, that the other officers at the scene did not act as if Chauvin was grossly and obviously out of line. Moreover, we again have the issue of burden and level of proof.

**With reservations for exact terminology in the jurisdiction at hand.

As is, I am going to sharpen my original statement and say that he would not be convicted even of manslaughter in a fair trial; and, in particular, that he rightfully should be acquitted of all the charges that he is currently facing.

However, as a counter-point, I partially retract subsequent claims that Floyd probably died of a drug overdose. From my current state of knowledge, that too is too speculative, and my original take (as quoted in the first two sentences above) is the better. (But I would judge the third sentence as a likely thumbs up: remove the drugs and Floyd would probably have lived—knee or no knee.)

Unfortunately, and here things become complicated, there are strong signs that the trial was/is not fair. This includes doubt as to whether jury selection found a sufficiently impartial group, that the jury might have fears of personal repercussion in case of an acquittal, the potentially damaging effects of the settlement with Floyd’s family (see excursion), the vastly different resources and (probably) competence levels of defense and prosecution, and the use of evidence that has no place in a fair trial.* To the latter, I point at least to the use of extensive “Floyd was a great guy” testimony, which is utterly irrelevant** to the facts of the case and can serve only one purpose, namely to prejudice the jury. Whether Floyd was Pol Pot or Mother Teresa does not change Chauvin’s actions or motivations, does not change Floyd’s drug levels or health issues, or any other aspect of what actually happened.

*Which is not necessarily to say that the use was against U.S. law or U.S. standard practices. However, I do note that [2] speculates that another issue might provide grounds for mistrial. (A claim that I am not qualified to judge.)

**With some minor reservations for issues that, in my impression, have not featured in the case, e.g. speculation that Chauvin might have known of Floyd as a bad guy and might have wanted to remove this known bad guy from the streets or, absent medical tests, that it could have affected the believability of the claim that Chauvin had taken drugs.

Excursion on sources:
My largest individual sources of information during the trial and pre-trial phases have been a number of early texts by Scott Johnson, who has analyzed the jury-selection process, and, after this source dried up, Coverage by Anastasia Katz. Other sources have provided just an article here and an article there, and I have not kept a record. (Except for [2] above, which I encountered today.) I note that somewhat factual sources have tended to say similar things as Johnson and Katz, but that strongly partial have gone off at different angles—ranging from Chauvin “obviously” having done nothing wrong whatsoever to Chauvin “obviously” being a malicious murderer. As a disclaimer, I stress that I have not spent as much time on the trial or had as thorough access to evidence and testimony as the jurors.

Excursion on “if Floyd had been found elsewhere”:
A common argument in the pro-Chauvin camps is that, by expert testimony, if he would have been found dead elsewhere, an overdose would have been assumed. This argument has merit, but it is not as strong as it might seem. Consider the common physician’s cliche “if you here hoof beats, think horses—not zebras”. This is a statement about what is more plausible in a certain setting (e.g. the U.S. while not in a zoo). Change the setting and it does no longer necessarily hold. We could well have an expert (correctly) testify that if he heard hoof beats in a zoo or in some parts of Africa, his thought would be “zebra”. This does not alter the fact that “horse” is the better assumption on e.g. a random Texan ranch. To judge which explanation is the better, then, we have to look at the actual situation at hand—not at some other situation.

Excursion on Floyd’s character and the settlement:
The settlement is a disgrace and such a waste of city money that it should be cause for the immediate resignation of the decision makers and that they should be forced to pay back every single cent to the city out of their own pockets. The settlement was extremely pre=mature and likely deliberately timed to have a negative effect on Chauvin’s chances. 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. (Here I had also intended to go into a long discussion of the absurd sum relative the life a scumbag vs. sums awarded to more upstanding and more innocent citizens; however, a brief research shows a long history of absurd awards in wrongful death suits in the U.S. The amount is and remains absurd, even compared to most other cases, often involving much worthier people, but it might only be a portion of a larger problem.)

Excursion on “systemic racism”, etc.:
The brouhaha around Floyd and Chauvin, contrasted with e.g. the Ashli Babbitt situation, is yet another (!) indication that “systemic racism” and similar ideas are bullshit. Floyd was a criminal who, even very early on, seemed to have died more from poor police decision-making than malice (even before e.g. drug issues became known); Babbitt (White) seems to have been an upstanding citizen who was shot without warning by a police officer (apparently Black). The former case goes to trial with murder charges; the latter is dismissed with minimal publicity long before trial.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 17, 2021 at 11:13 pm

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