Medical experts: Floyd’s speech didn’t mean he could breathe
MINNEAPOLIS — As George Floyd repeatedly pleaded “I can’t breathe” to police officers holding him down on a Minneapolis street corner, some of the officers responded by pointing out he was able to speak. One told Floyd it takes “a lot of oxygen” to talk, while another told angry bystanders that Floyd was “talking, so he can breathe.”
That reaction — seen in police restraint deaths around the country — is dangerously wrong, medical experts say. While it would be right to believe a person who can’t talk also cannot breathe, the reverse is not true — speaking does not imply that someone is getting enough air to survive.
“The ability to speak does not mean the patient is without danger,” said Dr. Mariell Jessup, chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association.
“To speak, you only have to move air through the upper airways and the vocal cords, a very small amount,” and that does not mean that enough air is getting down into the lungs where it can supply the rest of the body with oxygen, said Dr. Gary Weissman, a lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.
The false perception that someone who can speak can also take in enough air is not part of any known police training curriculum or practices, according to experts on police training and use of force.