On Monday, May 25, 2020, an unarmed African-American man named George Floyd lost his life after being arrested by officers from the Minneapolis, Minnesota Police Department. Floyd’s death became national news following the release of disturbing video footage of his encounter with the police.
Bystander video shows Floyd, 46, lying facedown and handcuffed in the street beside a police vehicle. He was being restrained by Officer Derek Chauvin, who was pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck while another officer monitored nearby pedestrians. In obvious distress, Floyd stated that he could not breathe, yelled “‘Everything hurts’” and “‘Don’t kill me,’” and begged for his mother. Bystanders repeatedly pleaded with the police on Floyd’s behalf, but Officer Chauvin did not shift his position. Later, Floyd became unresponsive; however, Officer Chauvin did not remove his knee from Floyd’s neck until emergency personnel placed him on a stretcher. Floyd later died at Hennepin County Medical Center. Preliminary autopsy results showed that the combined effects of the police restraint, heart disease, hypertension, and “potential intoxicants” were likely to have contributed to Floyd’s death; Floyd’s family has disputed these findings and has hired an outside expert to perform an independent autopsy.
A statement issued by the Minneapolis Police Department was less than forthright about Floyd’s death. The statement makes no mention of the use of a neck restraint. According to the statement, Floyd was arrested following a report of a “‘forgery in progress,’” appeared to be intoxicated, and resisted arrest. However, video footage of a portion of the encounter shows Floyd being handcuffed by police and escorted across a street; it does not show him behaving violently. The statement does acknowledge that Floyd was unarmed.
After Floyd’s death, Officer Chauvin and three other officers involved in the incident were fired from the police force. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for criminal charges against Chauvin. Protests—some of which have turned violent—have broken out in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City and many other places. Both the FBI and state law enforcement officials are investigating Floyd’s death. On May 29, 2020, Derek Chauvin, the now-fired officer, was arrested and charged with unintentional murder and manslaughter, but may face more serious charges.
A native of Houston, Texas, Floyd was a high school athlete. After moving to Minneapolis in recent years, he had worked as a security guard at Conga Latin Bistro and at a Salvation Army. NBC News reported that he was involved in Christian rap and in community outreach activities. He leaves behind a six-year-old daughter.
The events surrounding Floyd’s death are disturbingly reminiscent of the events surrounding the death of Eric Garner, another unarmed African-American man who died after having his neck compressed by a white police officer. The video of the encounter is chilling. Bystanders watching the encounter were concerned about the treatment of Floyd and about whether his breathing was being disrupted; why wasn’t Officer Chauvin concerned? And what about the other officers on the scene? Why did they fail to intervene in the situation?
Here’s the bottom line: Police officers are entitled to respect, and their instructions should be obeyed. However, police officers must use their authority in a lawful and responsible way, and must treat all citizens equally without regard to race. Restricting the breathing of a handcuffed, secured suspect is an illegitimate use of police authority. NYCF supports the arrest and prosecution of Derek Chauvin and lends our voice to the call for a full and rapid investigation into the death of George Floyd. If that investigation confirms that other officers of the Minneapolis Police Department acted unlawfully toward Floyd, they should be arrested and prosecuted as well.
Portions of this article were updated on June 1, 2020.