A white police officer in the U.S. city of Minneapolis seen kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed African American man who died in custody after pleading he could not breathe has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the charges Friday after he said his office had enough evidence to justify the charges. Freeman did not immediately disclose details but said a criminal complaint would be available later.
The victim, 46-year-old George Floyd, was pronounced dead shortly after he was pinned to the ground while handcuffed and officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck as Floyd pleaded he could not breath.
Floyd’s family responded to the charges, saying in a statement it wants prosecutors to take a tougher approach.
“The arrest of former Minneapolis police officer Kerek Chauvin for the brutal killing of George Floyd is a welcome but overdue step on the road to justice. We expected a first-degree murder charge. We want a first-degree murder charge. And we want to see the other officers arrested. We call on authorities to revise the charges to reflect the true culpability of this officer.”
The Midwestern city of Minneapolis remains on edge following another night of violent protests sparked by the controversial death of an African American man in the custody of a white police officer.
Protesters vented their anger in Minneapolis for a third night, setting a police precinct and businesses on fire and smashing windows of businesses. The National Guard was mobilized as the twin city of St. Paul was also rocked by another night of violence.
Demonstrations against Floyd’s death and years of violence against African Americans at the hands of police have also spread across the United States. Protestors also took to the streets Thursday in New York City and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd pleaded, while being detained by officer Chauvin. The incident was captured on cellphone video that went viral after it was posted online.
The officer restraining a handcuffed Floyd urged him to “relax,” but the officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck after the unarmed man stopped moving. One witness said he heard Floyd calling out for his mother. The video shows Floyd’s head turned to the side as he does not appear to be resisting. Toward the end of the video, paramedics arrive, lift a limp Floyd onto a stretcher and place him in an ambulance. Authorities later told reporters Floyd died at the hospital.
Minneapolis police said Floyd resembled a suspect wanted for allegedly trying to spend a counterfeit $20 bill in a food store and that he had resisted arrest.
The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, said early Friday the city is in “a lot of pain and anger” but the looting and burning to protest George Floyd’s death is “unacceptable.”
Frey said the damaged properties, including a police precinct, are “essential to our community.” He said he decided to let the precinct burn late Thursday after receiving reports that protesters were trying to breach the premises. Frey said he ordered police personnel to evacuate from the precinct before it was set ablaze because it became too dangerous for them.
Frey also responded to President Donald Trump’s tweets that Minneapolis suffers from a “total lack of leadership” and his labeling of the rioters as “THUGS” who “are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd.”
Trump also threatened to bring the city “under control” and tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Frey said “Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis,” and added, “We are strong as hell.”
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz also criticized Trump, saying his references to “thugs” and “shooting” are counterproductive.
“In the moment where we’re at, in a moment that is so volatile, anything we do to add fuel to that fire is really not helpful,” Walz said at a Friday news conference. “There is a way to do this without inflaming (tensions).”
Twitter added a warning to Trump’s tweet suggesting that protestors could be shot, saying it violates its rules “about glorifying violence.” The social media company later flagged Trump’s reference to “thugs.”
The White House later said “the president did not glorify violence, but condemned it.”
Attorney General William Barr said Friday the images “of the incident that ended with the death of Mr. Floyd, while in custody of Minneapolis police offers, were harrowing to watch and deeply disturbing.” Barr also said an independent investigation is being conducted by the Justice Department and the FBI.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted Friday about Floyd’s death, calling on the country to treat all citizens with dignity and respect.
“It’s natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal.’
“It shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America,” Obama added. “It can’t be ‘normal.”
Floyd and officer Chauvin knew each other from working security jobs together at the same Minneapolis nightclub, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins told CNN Friday.
Chauvin was a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department who had at least a dozen complaints filed against him about his conduct, according to NBC News and other news outlets. NBC reports that records show Chauvin was not disciplined over the complaints but received one “letter of reprimand.”
The other officers involved in Floyd’s restraint have been identified as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng. They are still under investigation.
Separately, a CNN crew was arrested in Minneapolis on live television early Friday after protests overnight about Floyd’s death.
As reporter Omar Jimenez, who is black, and two other crew members were arrested, the camera continued to run. During the incident, Jimenez asked why he was being arrested. CNN says Governor Walz has apologized to the network.
Because of Floyd’s “I can’t breathe,” comment, his death was quickly compared to that of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York who died in 2014 after a white officer placed him in a chokehold while he begged for his life. Garner also told officers, “I can’t breathe,” a cry that became a national rallying point against the country’s long history of police brutality.
Floyd’s death comes weeks after three people were charged with the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in the southern state of Georgia. The African American man was allegedly killed in February by a white former Glynn County police officer and his son who claim they mistook Arbery for a burglar while he was jogging. The two were charged only after a video of the shooting emerged several weeks later.