OROf all the accounts of George Floyd’s life and death heard in a Minneapolis courthouse this week, perhaps the least expected was his girlfriend’s description of their shared struggle with opioid addiction.
Courteney Ross’s heartbreaking testimony gave a very human insight into the relentless search for a solution and a mutual struggle to get rid of drug dependence.
It was a story that would be recognized by millions of Americans sucked into the greatest drug epidemic in their country’s history by the arrogant push of the pharmaceutical industry to flood the United States with opioid painkillers.
Defense attorney for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for murder in Floyd’s death, also saw something in Ross’s account. An opportunity.
Ross recounted about her boyfriend’s brush with death from an overdose just weeks before he took his last breath below Chauvin’s knee in May of last year. He took a pill that she didn’t recognize. “His stomach hurt a lot,” he said. “I was doubled over in pain.”
Ross said he noticed a white substance around Floyd’s mouth and took him to the hospital, where he remained for several days after an apparently overdose. It was not the first time.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, drew attention to the similarity between Ross’s description and the police account of Floyd’s condition when he was arrested: a man complaining that his stomach ached and had white foam around his neck. mouth.
Nelson’s intent was to undermine the prosecution’s claim that Chauvin killed Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck for more than nine minutes while Floyd lay on the ground.
The defense has made a simple calculation. Sow doubts in a single juror about the cause of death, after all, the official autopsy showed that Floyd had a mix of drugs in his system, and Chauvin could go free.
But if the defense alleges that Floyd was evidently taking an overdose, or at least under the influence of drugs, why didn’t Chauvin and his fellow officers act at the time?
From video recordings and police body camera footage shown in court, it is clear that Floyd was distraught even before Chauvin put his knee to his neck. He was rambling and confused when officers arrived at the scene. The cashier who sold Floyd cigarettes shortly before his arrest said at trial that he was evidently drugged, though friendly and non-threatening.
Even if the police did not immediately recognize that Floyd was under the influence of drugs or at risk of an overdose, it is clear that he was going through some kind of crisis, perhaps with his mental health.
Chauvin and his fellow officers heard Floyd scream repeatedly from a stomachache and saw foam around his mouth. However, his cries for help were rejected. There seemed to be disregard for their welfare. Chauvin only told his supervisor that Floyd was “going crazy.”
Why didn’t the police acknowledge that the man in their custody was in crisis? Was it because the officers didn’t want to see? Or because they weren’t trained for it? Either way, those few minutes could have had a much less tragic outcome if Floyd had been treated as a medical emergency.
The paramedic who treated Floyd said that when he arrived, none of the policemen were offering the dying man any type of first aid, even though he was not breathing. Throughout, Floyd remained just a suspect who had to be subdued.
One reform demanded by protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death is that a portion of the police budget be spent putting social workers alongside officers.
Video recordings show that before Chauvin and his fellow officers tried to force Floyd into a squad car, they handcuffed him and sat against a wall. He was not a threat to anyone and his arrest was not a matter of urgency. That was the time that a social worker could have been consulted or asked on site, if such a policy had existed. It is almost certain that the result would have been different.
Other police departments have learned the value of social workers and mental health experts in dealing with drug crises. One of the pioneers has been the city of Huntington in West Virginia, a state ravaged by the opioid epidemic that for many years had the highest overdose rate in the country.
Among other things, the presence of a social worker while police dealt with people with overdoses or in some other form of drug emergency helped officers see opioid addicts in a different light.
A former Huntington County Sheriff told me that the presence of social workers had transformed his thinking and that of many of his officers, who previously didn’t see the point in rescuing someone from an overdose only to see them do it again.
The former boss compared it to the revelation sparked earlier in his career by training on why some women remain in abusive relationships even after police are repeatedly called.
There is enough concern for Floyd’s state of mind and health in the video footage reproduced in court that Chauvin and the other officers have sought medical help. Instead, there appeared to be only a determination to make an arrest, even though Chauvin could have written Floyd a fine for using a counterfeit $ 20 bill.
But then, perhaps, like many other officers who encounter drug users in crisis, Floyd was seen as an “addict” to blame for his own condition.
Ross told a different story of Floyd caught in the opioid trap for sports injuries and prescribed oxycodone for the pain. The drug included the powerful narcotic OxyContin, which did a lot to fuel the opioid epidemic. For two decades, its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, unleashed the massive prescription of painkillers on a scale never seen in any other country.
“We got addicted and we both tried to break that addiction many times,” Ross said.
Ultimately, Floyd failed to make that breakup and was convicted of it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism