A Black man who yelled “I cannot breathe” as a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him down with his knee in the US state of Minnesota died late on Monday, police confirmed, drawing outrage from community members and leaders, and leading to the officers’ termination.
Video of the incident shows the police officer pinning down George Floyd, believed to be in his 40s, to the pavement with his knee on the man’s neck for several minutes. Floyd was identified by prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who said he had been retained by the Floyd family.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said during a news conference on Tuesday that the four officers involved in the incident were now “former employees”. The city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, confirmed that the officers had been terminated, saying “this is the right decision for our city”. The police officers involved in the incident were wearing body cameras, the Minneapolis police department said. The footage has not been made publicly available.
Community members and leaders have expressed outrage over the incident, with many drawing comparisons to Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who died in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by New York City police and pleading: “I can’t breathe.” That incident sparked nationwide protests. “We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him to the police car and get off his neck,” Crump, the Floyd’s lawyer, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge,” he added. “How many deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends?”
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a local lawyer and prominent activist, wrote on Facebook that this “is trauma on trauma on trauma”. “We can’t escape police violence even in a global pandemic,” she added. Others said that while the firing of the officers involved was a good first step, they should also be prosecuted. “The actions of the officers involved are inexcusable and warrant swift consequences,” said Leslie Redmond, the president, Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Their actions represent a dangerous precedent set forth by the racist, xenophobic, and prejudicial sentiment in our society against Black people. We witnessed a violation of our human rights, and we must hold all involved criminally accountable for the death of Mr Floyd,” she said in a statement.
Hundreds of protesters rallied in Minneapolis later on Tuesday to express outrage and demand greater action. Organisers urged participants to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic. Protesters chanted “I can’t breathe” and “no justice, no peace” as they moved from the intersection where Monday’s incident occured to the police precinct where the officers involved worked.