On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year old unarmed black male, was arrested by Minneapolis police officers for a non-violent offense, and subsequently died in their custody. This interaction transpired in broad daylight on a public street, and was captured on cell phone videos by multiple witnesses, as Floyd was handcuffed, pinned to the ground and his life forcibly extinguished.
A convenience store clerk called 911 to report Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Once police arrived on scene, a span of 17 minutes elapsed, at the conclusion of which Floyd was rendered unconscious. Three officers were seen sitting on the suspect, one of which maintained his leg across the neck of Floyd.
The following day all four responding officers were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department. This move came after videos taken by witnesses showing the street execution of George Floyd played non-stop across airwaves overnight, and trended on social media.
The official autopsy report classified Floyd’s death as a homicide attributed to cardiopulmonary arrest caused by subdual and restraint. Potential intoxicants in his system were listed as “significant conditions.” A second autopsy, commissioned by Floyd’s family, found that the “evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause” of death, with neck compression restricting blood flow to the brain, and back compression restricting breathing.
It’s not like this wasn’t brought to the attention of police. George Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” Bystanders begged with police to get off Floyd’s neck. Witnesses, one of which was a nurse, told officers they were going to kill the man and offered to provide first aid. The officers refused assistance.
On May 29, Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney (Minneapolis), announced third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges against Derek Chauvin, who was the most egregiously identifiable officer in the witness videos.
Officer Chauvin, who is white, kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for at least eight minutes and 15 seconds. He did not remove his knee even after the suspect had lost consciousness. In fact Officer Chauvin felt compelled to keep his knee on George Floyd’s neck for one minute and 20 seconds after paramedics arrived on scene.
Hennepin County prosecutors later added a more serious second-degree murder charge against Chauvin, and charged the three other former officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Chauvin, if convicted, could face up to 40 years in prison.
This catastrophe of a police encounter went viral immediately. It wasn’t just about what happened at the scene in Minneapolis. The senselessness of Floyd’s death struck a nerve that spoke to the racial injustice suffered by minority populations across America.
Officer Chauvin, 44, was seen as the poster child for white police indifference to the social inequalities for minorities, and the iron-fisted response law enforcement delivered in these communities.
Large protests erupted as a result in more than 150 American cities against police brutality and systemic racism. Clearly not all of these protests were peaceful. Businesses and a police substation were set on fire in Minneapolis.
The nationwide protests took on a life of their own. Particularly here in Louisville, KY, where Floyd’s death highlighted the March killing of Breonna Taylor, a young black woman, shot to death in her home by Louisville Metro Police in a botched no-knock warrant.
It’s incomprehensible the sheer, unending number of unarmed black men murdered on the streets of America by white police officers. You would think that with all the attention on this subject currently, when faced with an unarmed black male, who is not a danger to himself or others, officers would back off, disengage and find a nonlethal solution to the situation.
The fact that incidents such as the killing of George Floyd keep happening, one can’t make a logical interpretation other than these deaths are purposeful. It is an inconvenient truth that unarmed black men are disproportionately killed by police. Change will not be realized until law enforcement deals with this internally, officers get held accountable and politicians lose elections as a result of inaction.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey indicated on social media that he had requested the F.B.I. open a civil rights investigation, and that, “Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.”