Four Minneapolis police officers have been fired, according to the city’s mayor, after a disturbing video showed a black man dying in police custody on Monday night as he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” while a white police officer pushed a knee into his neck. The man, who was not officially identified by police, was
Four Minneapolis police officers have been fired, according to the city’s mayor, after a disturbing video showed a black man dying in police custody on Monday night as he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” while a white police officer pushed a knee into his neck.
The man, who was not officially identified by police, was named as George Floyd by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, as well as attorney Benjamin Crump, who said he was representing the family.
Mayor Frey said on Tuesday afternoon that four officers involved in Floyd’s death had been fired.
“This is the right call,” he tweeted.
In a video originally posted to Facebook by an onlooker, Floyd can be seen talking to officers and onlookers, begging for help, as two officers press him into the ground, before he becomes unresponsive.
“Please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man, please,” Floyd says repeatedly, as a police officer holds a knee against his neck for eight minutes.
“I can’t breathe,” says Floyd.
A person can be heard talking to Floyd, telling him to get up and get in the car, although it is unclear if it is an officer speaking.
“I can’t move,” says Floyd. “Everything hurts. Give me some water or something, please. I can’t breathe, officer.”
“They’re going to kill me,” Floyd says. “They’re going to kill me, man.”
Onlookers can be heard calling on police to stop, stating the man’s nose was bleeding, he was not resisting arrest, and that the officer was stopping his breathing.
“He’s fine,” responds one officer, saying they’d tried to put Floyd into a car for 10 minutes.
When Floyd becomes unresponsive, onlookers start demanding officers give the man medical attention.
“He’s not responsive right now,” says one onlooker, who goes forward to help as a police officer pulls out a can of mace.
“Does he have a pulse?” asks another onlooker. “Check his pulse!”
The officers repeatedly tell the onlookers to get back and do not immediately provide medical attention for the unresponsive man in their custody.
Paramedics then arrive, check Floyd’s pulse, and roll him onto a gurney and into an ambulance.
Police told local station KSTP Floyd was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Crump, who is representing Floyd’s family, released a statement Tuesday demanding answers from the police department.
“We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him into the police car and get off his neck. 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-violence charge,” he said in a statement. “How may ‘while black’ deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends?”
The incident took place in front of a supermarket at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.
Vanita Williams told BuzzFeed News she witnessed the incident and is demanding justice for her friend, who she said had been hospitalized with COVID-19 just last month.
“He survived corona and couldn’t survive going to the store,” said Williams, 57.
“We want the police to be held accountable for the negligence,” said Williams. “We want them to be held accountable for not being responsible.”
She said police officers used excessive force and failed to seek medical attention quickly enough.
“I think the police that were there should be fired and should come up on criminal charges,” said Williams. “We were just trying to get some help,” she said, weeping. “When he stopped moving, we knew he was gone… He died with his hands behind his back saying ‘Help me, I can’t breathe.’ He died in handcuffs.”
She knew Floyd, known as “Big Floyd,” because he worked as a security guard at a downtown homeless shelter.
“He gave us hugs, and told us it was going to be OK, he told us we could make it,” said Williams. “He was such a big brother to me.”
She said Floyd had moved to Minneapolis from Texas a few years earlier, to change his life, and went out of his way to help the underprivileged, such as people experiencing homelessness, people dealing with drug addiction, and sex workers.
“He was articulate, he was grounded, he was spiritual, he was an athlete, he was an organizer, he was a comforter, he was an encourager,” said Williams. “I could just go on and on and on about who he was. That guy did not deserve to die like that.”
In a statement, police said they had initially been called to the scene to investigate a forgery.
Minneapolis police did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment, but in a statement to KSTP, police spokesperson John Elder said Floyd died after “medical distress.”
“He was ordered to step from the car … after he got out he physically resisted officers … officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and the officers noticed the male was going into medical distress,” Elder told KSTP.
“They are literally lying,” wrote the woman who posted the Facebook video of the incident.
The FBI is now investigating the incident.
In an emotional press conference on Tuesday morning, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Floyd “should not have died” and that the officer “failed in the most basic human sense.”
“What we saw was horrible, completely and utterly messed up,” said Frey.
“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Frey said. “For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also condemned what she described as “another horrifying and gutwrenching instance of an African American man dying.”
Some protesters who marched in honor of Floyd Tuesday afternoon later gathered outside the police station and clashed with officers, smashing windows as gas was deployed to break up the demonstration.
Floyd’s death is the latest in a long history of unarmed black people dying in interactions with police in the US.
His plea of “I can’t breathe” was the same as Eric Garner, who died in New York City in 2014 after an NYPD officer placed him in an illegal chokehold. Video taken by an onlooker also captured his death.
In 2015, there were widespread protests in Minneapolis when 24-year-old Jamar Clark was shot dead by two white police officers. Authorities later declined to charge the officers, ruling their use of deadly force was justified.
Minneapolis police also came under scrutiny in 2017 when a black officer shot dead an unarmed white woman, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. The officer is now serving a 12-year prison sentence.