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Civil rights activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced on Wednesday the launch of a new initiative as part of his Know Your Rights Camp advocacy organization. Called the Autopsy Initiative, it will be led by five Board-Certified pathologists and offers free secondary autopsies for families of loved ones who have died under "police-related" circumstances. Those circumstances include being a victim of on-duty or off-duty officers as a result of shooting, beating, restraint or intentionally hit by a police vehicle while under police custody.
Supporter of the initiative argue that an independent autopsy can be necessary, because of the potential bias of medical examiners who work closely with law enforcement.
The autopsy initiative, Mr.Kaepernick said, “is one important step toward ensuring that family members have access to accurate and forensically verifiable information about the cause of death of their loved one in their time of need," reports the New York Times.
In the case of the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, for instance, the Medical Examiner of Hennepin County classified Mr. Floyd’s death as resulting from factors of heart disease, fentanyl and methamphetamine. However, private pathologists hired by Floyd's family confirmed that he died from asphyxia caused by police restraint.
But because independent autopsies can cost as much as $5,000 dollars, many families who suspect foul play cannot afford them. The Know Your Rights Camp website explains that a certified board of pathologists are offering their services free of charge to ensure that scientific accuracy is given to victims of in-custody deaths without finances getting in the way of equal justice.
A recent example of Know Your Rights Camp's forensic work can be seen in Kaepernick's home state of Wisconsin. His team is currently helping the family of Keishon Thompson who was 20 years old when he died in a holding cell 15 hours after police arrested him, according to WISN 12. The Thompson family and local community members are demanding answers.
This prompted Dr. Cyril Wecht, the famed pathologist, and member of The Autopsy Initiatives's Board, to lend his own knowledge of autopsy bias in police-related deaths. He believes this is not a means to criticize the work of any pathologist who conduct the first autopsies.
"Sometimes medical examiners are simply not calling things as they should call them," he told WISN 12. "There's a close relationship, broadly speaking, between medical examiners, coroners and law enforcement officers. A set of fresh eyes looking at these cases is important."
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