This should be the last part of my series of notes on Keith Ellison’s memoir of the Chauvin prosecution for the death of George Floyd — Break the Wheel: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence. The series has let me take my eye off the news while I read the book and wrote a review that may see light in some form some time in the next week or two.
Despite the glowing attention the book has received in the mainstream media, it is mediocre at best. The heart of the book provides a skimpy and partial (i.e., biased) account of the trial. Ellison’s partiality is excusable and to be expected, but he also amplifies the difficulties of the prosecution to enhance his portrayal of the unlikely triumph of justice he achieved, at least by his own telling.
The greatest challenge faced by the prosecution arose from cause-of-death issues. Ellison devotes several pages to the work of Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. Ellison conveys his fear over the possible damage Baker could do to the case. As I see it, Baker ultimately conformed his testimony to comport with the prosecution case, but as a matter of trial strategy the prosecution buried Baker’s appearance in the middle of their roster of medical experts just in case he departed from the script.
Ellison’s voice comes through clearly in this book. To write it Ellison drew on the diary he keeps. I wonder how far back that diary goes. I’d like to take a look at his account of his doings in Minneapolis from 1989 to 2000 or so. Assuming anything can, such an account would put an end to his political ambitions.
I enjoyed Ellison’s portrayal of his family background in his 2014 memoir, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. Ellison is one of five brothers. I came away from My Country with admiration for his brother Brian. Brian is the long-time pastor of the Church of the New Covenant in Detroit. In My Country Ellison described Brian as a pro-life supporter of President Bush. I will only note that Reverend Ellison reappears in Break the Wheel at pages 185-188 with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke. Ellison quotes his brother explaining the parable to him and applying it to the witnesses to Floyd’s death in the custody of the police.
Which reminds me. In My Country, Ellison recounts that he converted to Islam as an undergraduate student at Wayne State University. Yet by the time Ellison was a third-year law student at the University of Minnesota, he was writing columns for the University of Minnesota Daily under a Nation of Islam pseudonym and spouting the Nation of Islam line. For his first ten years practicing law in Minneapolis, from 1990-2000, he toed the Nation of Islam line. In 1998, Ellison unsuccessfully sought the DFL endorsement for legislative office as Keith Ellison-Muhammad, a professed member of the Nation of Islam. By 2002, however, Ellison had silently concluded that the Nation of Islam was for losers and dropped it. Indeed, in My Country, Ellison presents himself as a critic of the Nation of Islam, as if it were ever thus.
Ellison’s account of his religious journey in My Country makes me wonder what really happened. I have never heard of a Muslim, as Ellison said he became, abandoning Islam for the Nation of Islam. The usual path goes the other way, as in the case of Malcolm X. It is pathetic that no journalist has ever tried to get a straight story from Ellison, but the journalist would have to have read Ellison’s first memoir and cut through Ellison’s blizzard of lies concealing the true history of his ten-year NOI activities.
In my forthcoming review I note a (large) number of professionals who contributed their services to the Chauvin prosecution. Ellison names them in his acknowledgments at pages 273-275.
In the text Ellison relates the crucial testimony of Dr. Martin Tobin at trial on the cause of Floyd’s death. Tobin must be one of the most prominent pulmonologists in the country. He flew in from Chicago to testify as an expert witness for the prosecution, both in its case in chief and in rebuttal. Ellison does not note — either in the text or in the acknowledgments — that Tobin also contributed his services to the prosecution, as he testified he did. I can’t account for this omission.
Chauvin’s expert witness on the key issue of causation was Dr. David Fowler, former head of Maryland’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Fowler was of course retained and paid by the defense for his work on the case. Ellison goes out of his way to relate allegations of professional misconduct against Dr. Fowler in a lawsuit brought by the family of Anton Black. The allegations derive from Fowler’s work as Chief Medical Examiner. Ellison writes: “Unfortunately, the Minnesota Rules of Evidence precluded us from asking Fowler about Anton Black, but it would have been interesting.” I believe the lawsuit remains pending and the allegations remain just that. This is a low blow, gratuitous at that. It does not reflect well on Ellison.