Outrage across America over George Floyd’s death
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African-American man, was killed in the Powderhorn community of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white American Minneapolis police officer, kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; according to the criminal complaint against Chauvin, 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time occurred after Floyd became unresponsive. Officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K. Lane participated in Floyd’s arrest, with Kueng holding Floyd’s back, Lane holding his legs, and Thao looking on and preventing intervention by an onlooker as he stood nearby.
The arrest was made after Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a market. Police said Floyd physically resisted arrest. Some media organizations commented that a security camera from a nearby business did not show Floyd resisting. The criminal complaint filed later said that based on body camera footage, Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe while standing outside the police car, resisted getting in the car and intentionally fell down. Several bystanders recorded the event on their smartphones, with one video showing Floyd repeating “Please”, “I can’t breathe”, “Mama”, and “Don’t kill me” being widely circulated on social media platforms and broadcast by the media. While knee-to-neck restraints are allowed in Minnesota under certain circumstances, Chauvin’s usage of the technique has been widely criticized by law enforcement experts as excessive. All four officers were fired the day after the incident.
Two autopsies of Floyd were conducted; both ruled that the manner of death was homicide. The autopsy report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner found that Floyd died from a cardiac arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officers, noting significant conditions such as “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use”. An independent private autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family found that the “evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause” of Floyd’s death, with neck compression restricting blood and oxygen to the brain, while back compression restricted breathing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting a federal civil rights investigation at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is also investigating possible violations of Minnesota statutes. On May 29, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s death, with Hennepin County attorney Michael O. Freeman saying he anticipated charges to be brought against the other three officers at the scene; no indictments or charges have been filed against the three officers as of June 1.
After Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area were initially peaceful on May 26, and later that day became violent as a police precinct and two stores were set on fire, and many stores were looted and damaged. Some demonstrators skirmished with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Additional protests developed in over 200 cities throughout all 50 states in the United States as well as internationally. Floyd’s death has been compared to the 2014 death of Eric Garner. Garner, also an unarmed black man, repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times after being placed in a chokehold by a New York police officer during an arrest in Staten Island, New York.
George Perry Floyd was a 46-year-old African-American man who was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and raised in Houston, Texas. He attended Yates High School, where he played on the basketball and football teams. Floyd was a star tight end for Yates, helping them to the 1992 state championship final game. He attended South Florida Community College (now South Florida State College) from 1993 to 1995 and played on the school’s basketball team. Floyd returned to Houston, where he joined the hip hop group Screwed Up Click and rapped under the stage name “Big Floyd”, after entering the Houston Hip Hop cultural scene as an automotive customizer. In 2014, Floyd moved to Minnesota. He lived in St. Louis Park and worked in nearby Minneapolis as a restaurant security guard for five years , but lost his job due to Minnesota’s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic. Floyd was the father of two daughters, ages 6 and 22, who remained in Houston.
Derek Michael Chauvin, aged 44, had been an officer in the Minneapolis Police Department since around 2001. Chauvin had 18 complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline from the department, including official letters of reprimand. He had been involved in three police shootings, one of which was fatal. According to former club owner Maya Santamaria, Floyd and Chauvin both worked as security guards and had overlapping shifts at the Latin nightclub, El Nuevo Rodeo. She said Chauvin had worked there for 17 years, while Floyd had worked at about a dozen events. She said it was not clear if they knew each other but that she did not believe so. Santamaria said Chauvin at times had used overly aggressive tactics when dealing with black clientele, responding to fights by taking out his mace and spraying the crowd, a tactic she told him was unjustified “overkill”.
Tou Thao, age 34, attended the police academy in 2009 and was hired to a full-time position with the Minneapolis police in 2012 after being laid off for two years. Six police conduct complaints had been filed against Thao, none resulting in disciplinary action. In 2014, Thao was accused of brutality when his arrest of an African-American man resulted in the man’s broken teeth and hospitalization. The victim stated he had been handcuffed without cause, and was then thrown to the ground and “punched, kicked, and kneed”, and humiliated. The resulting excessive-use-of-force lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court for $25,000. Thomas K. Lane, age 37, and J. Alexander Kueng, age 26, were licensed as law enforcement officers in August 2019. Neither had prior complaints on their records.