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The Death of George Floyd in Minneapolis: What We Know So Far

2020-05-28 00:17:47
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George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died on Monday after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a police officer’s knee, in an incident that was recorded on video and that incited large protests in Minneapolis.

The explosive footage, recorded by a bystander and shared widely on social media early Tuesday, led to community outrage, an F.B.I. civil rights investigation and the firing of the officer and three colleagues who were also at the scene.

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis Police Department identified the fired officers as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.

Mr. Floyd’s relatives have said that the officers should be charged with murder. “They treated him worse than they treat animals,” Philonise Floyd, Mr. Floyd’s brother, said on CNN. “They took a life — they deserve life.”

Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis was quick to condemn the officers’ actions, and on Wednesday, he called on prosecutors to file charges against the officer who had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

“I want to see a charge take place,” Mr. Frey said at a news conference, without specifying what charge he thought was warranted. “I want to see justice for George Floyd.”

Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes Minneapolis, tweeted on Wednesday that the officer should be charged with murder.

Mr. Floyd lived in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb. He was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m. Monday at Hennepin County Medical Center, according to the medical examiner.

He grew up in Houston, in a black neighborhood south of downtown known as the Third Ward, and was raised in a house with his siblings and two cousins, Shareeduh Tate and Tera Brown. Their mothers were sisters, Ms. Tate said.

Mr. Floyd graduated from Yates High in 1993, the Houston school district confirmed on Wednesday.

Cyril N. White, 45, said he knew Mr. Floyd when they were both star high school athletes playing basketball. Both received scholarships to play in college, with Mr. Floyd going to a community college in Florida, Mr. White said.

After college, Mr. Floyd was one of the first players recruited by Mr. White when he set up a club team to play exhibition matches against college teams around Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, and later in China, although by that time Mr. Floyd had left the team.

Mr. Floyd, known as “Big Floyd” to his teammates, given his 6-foot-7-inch height and hefty build, played power forward. He never got into a fight or received so much as a technical foul, Mr. White recalled.

“Gentle giant, gentle giant,” he said. “He was a natural comedian, a life-of-the-party type guy, real easy going.”

The club team, To God Be The Glory Sports, was not a church group, but members prayed together, and Mr. Floyd participated, Mr. White said. Mr. Floyd left after two years, saying he needed to work to take care of his new daughter.

Mr. White lamented how his friend had died. “They dehumanized him and treated him like a piece of garbage that was expendable. That is the worst.”

Ms. Tate said her cousin moved to Minneapolis four or five years ago, and Ms. Brown said he talked about the city as a welcoming place.

“He was happy there. He had made friends and had talked about training to become a truck driver,” said Ms. Brown, 48, an accounting manager. “He came home for his mother’s funeral two years ago, and he told me he had decided to stay.”

Jovanni Thunstrom, the owner of Conga Latin Bistro in Minneapolis, said he employed Mr. Floyd as a bouncer at the restaurant, and was also his landlord.

“No one had nothing bad to say about him,” Mr. Thunstrom said. “They all are shocked he’s dead. He never caused a fight or was rude to people.”

Mr. Thunstrom said Mr. Floyd paid his rent last week and told him that he was looking for a new job because Conga Latin Bistro has been closed to on-site dining since March because of the coronavirus. “I lost a friend,” Mr. Thunstrom said.

Mr. White, his former teammate, said that after Mr. Floyd moved to Minneapolis, they would talk on the phone a few times a year, catching up on each other’s news and talking about old friends.

Their last contact was a couple months before the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. White said. “He was all smiles. He did not give any signs about any problems at all.”

The arrest of Mr. Floyd took place on Monday evening. The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement that officers had responded to a call about a man suspected of forgery. The police said the man was found sitting on top of a blue car and “appeared to be under the influence.”

“He was ordered to step from his car,” the department’s statement said. “After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

The statement said that officers had called for an ambulance.

On Tuesday morning, without referring to the video recorded by a bystander, the police updated a statement, titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” saying that additional information had “been made available” and that the F.B.I. was joining the investigation.

The bystander video shows a white Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck during an arrest, as the man repeatedly says, “I can’t breathe,” and, “Please, I can’t breathe.”

The video recorded in Minneapolis on Monday shows that after a few minutes, the man, lying face down in the street with his hands cuffed behind his back, becomes silent and motionless; the officer continues to pin the man to the pavement with his knee.

Bystanders plead and curse, begging the officer to stop and telling him the man’s nose is bleeding. Another officer faces the people gathered on the sidewalk. An ambulance medic arrives and, reaching under the officer’s knee, feels for a pulse on the man’s neck.

The medic turns away, and a stretcher is wheeled over. The arrested man is then rolled onto the stretcher, loaded into an ambulance and taken away.

The video did not show what had happened before the officer pinned the man to the ground by his neck.

Mr. Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, said on Tuesday that he did not know how the initial police statement, describing a “medical incident,” had come to be written, but he said he wanted to be “absolutely as transparent as possible.”

“It’s the kind of thing where you don’t hide from the truth, you lean into it, because our city is going to be better off for it, no matter how ugly, awful it is,” he said. “If it points out the institutional racism that we are still working through right now, well, good — it means that we’ve got a lot of work to go.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Frey tweeted that four officers involved in the case had been terminated. “This is the right call,” he said.

The Police Department’s statement said that no weapons had been used and that the officers’ body cameras were recording. Mr. Frey said at a news conference on Tuesday that he had seen the video “taken and posted by a civilian,” but not the body camera footage.

He said he had asked the F.B.I. to investigate, and in a statement posted on social media said, “Being black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes.”

The F.B.I. is conducting a federal civil rights investigation, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement. The state bureau also said that it was conducting its own investigation at the request of the Police Department and that it would release its findings to the Hennepin County district attorney’s office.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but the head of the union said in a statement to the local news media that people should not rush to judgment while the investigation is ongoing.

“Our officers are fully cooperating,” the union head, Lt. Bob Kroll, said. “We must review all video. We must wait for the medical examiner’s report.”

Thomas M. Kelly, a lawyer representing Officer Chauvin in the investigation, said he had not heard the mayor’s remarks on Wednesday calling for the arresting officer in the case to be charged.

“I have no comment,” Mr. Kelly said, adding that there had been no legal developments in the case at this point.

Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer representing Mr. Floyd’s family members, said they wanted to see murder charges filed against the police officers.

“The plan is to make sure these officers are charged with the murder of George Floyd,” Mr. Crump said. “When you really think about it, it was nine minutes that he begged for his life while this officer had his knee in his throat, had his knee in his neck.”

Ms. Tate, Mr. Floyd’s cousin, agreed that the officers should face serious consequences.

“I would like to see the officers charged with murder and convicted,” she said. “I would not be happy with anything less. In my mind, they executed him.”

In Houston, friends and relatives gathered on Tuesday to remember Mr. Floyd in Emancipation Park, a site that was originally purchased by former slaves in the late 1800s. The Third Ward, where he grew up, has been a hub of social activism in Houston for decades.

Ms. Tate said she saw the video on Tuesday morning, but did not realize the man in the street in Minneapolis was the cousin she grew up with.

“I remember thinking how horrible this was, that a family’s loved one was murdered in the streets,” said Ms. Tate, 49, a registered nurse. “Maybe five minutes later I got the call confirming my cousin was on that video.”

“I went back and looked,” she said. “The first time, it didn’t have audio. The second time, the audio was on. I heard the first, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and I knew it was him.”

Hundreds of people gathered on Tuesday at the intersection where Mr. Floyd had been subdued, protesting the conduct of the officers.

The local news media reported that two people had been shot near the protest, but a Minneapolis Police Department spokesman, John Elder, said one person had been shot “away” from the protest and described the person’s injuries as not life-threatening. It was not immediately clear who did the shooting, he said.

Some protesters vandalized police vehicles with graffiti and targeted the precinct house where the four officers had been assigned, Mr. Elder said.

The police fired foam projectiles, known as marking rounds, and used tear gas to try to repel some of the protesters, he said. The Police Department did not immediately say if there had been any arrests.

Jamar B. Nelson, 41, a longtime community activist, said he and others had been calling for calm after the clashes.

“Our community is hurt and angry, but we can’t have the violence, because we are the ones who will ultimately be harmed,” said Mr. Nelson, who works for an organization that helps families of crime victims. “What you are seeing is a frustration with all these interactions between black males and the police that don’t end well.”

Mr. Nelson described the relationship between the police and the city’s black community as fractured.

“The truth is, we do not have a good history,” he said, describing the Police Department as “racist, bigoted and uncaring about the black community.” But he said the current police chief, Medaria Arradondo, had been trying to repair the relationship.

“Him firing the four officers expeditiously is a big deal,” Mr. Nelson said.

As the video spread on social media on Monday night, the arrest quickly drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, a black man who died in New York police custody in 2014 after an officer held him in a chokehold. Mr. Garner’s repeated plea of “I can’t breathe” — also recorded by a cellphone — became a rallying cry at demonstrations against police misconduct around the country.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, condemned the force used by the officers in Minneapolis.

“George Floyd deserved better and his family deserves justice,” Mr. Biden tweeted on Tuesday night. “His life mattered.”

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Biden made the comparison between the Floyd and Garner cases during a video livestream, and said the deaths were “part of an ingrained, systematic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country.”

Asked about the incident on Wednesday, President Trump called it “a very very sad event,” and later tweeted that he has asked for the F.B.I. investigation to be expedited, adding, “My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!”

Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, called the Floyd episode “sickening.”

“We will get answers and seek justice,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Christine Hauser, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Neil Vigdor, Audra D.S. Burch, John Eligon, Neil MacFarquhar and Manny Fernandez.


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