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At That Point It's Just Pain

Abby Zimet


Dr. Martin Tobin testifies

If you're strong or enraged enough to have followed each day of Derek Chauvin's trial, you will have seen a parade of somber, eloquent witnesses - cops, doctors, trainers, bystanders, paramedics, martial arts experts - who with stunning uniformity have said yes, just like it looked to a world watching in horror, Chauvin willfully murdered George Floyd with "totally unnecessary" force, his knee "rammed" into the dying man's neck for over nine minutes. On Thursday, the latest heroic witness, Dr. Martin Tobin, a renowned Chicago pulmonologist and critical care doctor with an Irish lilt, testified Floyd died from a low level of oxygen that damaged his brain and caused an arrhythmia that stopped his heart after his air passageway was blocked. “Did Mr Chauvin’s knee on Mr Floyd’s neck cause the narrowing?” he was asked. "Yes, it did," he said. Vitally, he added Chauvin's actions would have killed any healthy person, thus contradicting defence assertions Floyd may have died from drugs or underlying health conditions. Using medical evidence, plain language, anatomical diagrams, reconstructed videos and photo analysis - and suggesting to jurors they follow along by feeling their own necks - Tobin offered a devastating account of how Floyd stopped breathing. “He was being squashed between the two sides,” he said of Floyd’s position - prone on the street, with officers on top of him and Chauvin's knee on his neck and back preventing him from breathing with his left lung. "It was almost (like) a surgeon had gone in and removed a lung." In the end, he showed in graphic, stomach-churning photos, Floyd was "literally trying to breathe with his fingers and knuckles," desperately scrabbling against the sidewalk and police car tire to try and lift his shoulder off the ground to take a breath. Less than a minute after losing consciousness, Tobin said, Floyd didn't have an ounce of oxygen in his body; still, he said, Chauvin kept his knee on his  neck for three minutes after Floyd drew his last breath.

There's been much more, all damning. The day before, Sgt Jody Stiger, a use of force consultant for the LAPD, said video shows Chauvin used "excessive" force in a handcuffing technique designed to deliberately inflict pain to persuade a suspect to comply with police commands - though Floyd was already prone on the ground. So why do it, asked prosecutors. Stiger: “At that point it’s just pain.” In an unprecedented crack in the infamous “blue wall of silence," Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo also testified against Chauvin; having earlier gone on the record this was "murder," he said he “vehemently disagreed” with use of force that "absolutely violated" department policy: "It in no way, shape, or form is part of our policy, is not part of our training, and is not part of our ethics and values.” Most ominously, "Of all the thousands of calls (we) respond to, (what) we will be judged forever on will be our use of force." The hits kept coming. Police trainer Katie Blackwell on Chauvin's action: "This is not what we teach." Medical support coordinator Nicole Mackenzie: "Just because they're speaking doesn't mean they're breathing adequately." E.R. Dr. Bradford Langenfeld, who spent 30 minutes trying to bring Floyd back to life: His cardiac arrest was from lack of oxygen, period. Police Lt. Richard Zimmerman, head of homicide and 36-year veteran of the force: Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck was "totally unnecessary" and "just uncalled for." America, by and large, agrees. The rage on #ChauvinIsGuilty - "He killed him like a bug in the street," "There is no defence for the indefensible," "The world is watching" - is palpable. Only a failing state, it's been noted, holds a four-week trial for a slow murder by asphyxiation that the whole world saw. Given the blistering testimony and evidence, we don't know if any psycopath has ever been so brutally exposed as so manifestly culpable of murder. What we do know: If he isn't found guilty, there's no hope for this country. 

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email:

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