The midwestern U.S. city of Minneapolis remains on edge and the National Guard was called out to maintain order following another night of violent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African American man who had been in police custody.
The case has drawn national and international headlines, calls for the four white officers involved to face murder charges, and it has reignited a debate about the treatment of people of color in custody. Demonstrations are now spreading across the United States.
In Minneapolis, protesters vented their anger Thursday by setting a police precinct and businesses on fire. Demonstrators also smashed windows of businesses in anger over Floyd’s death. Some residents who live near the looted stores strongly criticized the police but said they could not understand why people were destroying their own neighborhood, including places where they shop.
Unrest also spread to the twin city of St. Paul, where authorities said officers were hit by rocks and bottles. Protests of Floyd’s death occurred Thursday in other U.S. cities, including New York City and Albuquerque, New Mexico. A gunshot was fired near a protest in Colorado at Denver’s State Capitol. A video on Twitter also showed an SUV that was driven into the Denver crowd, knocking down one of the demonstrators.
George Floyd’s death
“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd pleaded, while being detained by the officer. The incident was captured on cellphone video that went viral after it was posted online. Floyd was handcuffed. The officer restraining 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, which goes on for several minutes, 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.
“He wasn’t actively resisting, and he was saying he couldn’t breathe,” said Charles P. Stephenson, a former police officer and FBI agent with expertise in use-of-force tactics is quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “You have to understand that possibility is there [that Floyd couldn’t breathe], and you release any kind of restriction you might have on an airway immediately.”
Minneapolis police say Floyd resembled a suspect wanted for allegedly trying to spend a counterfeit $20 bill in a food store. Police say he had resisted arrest. Bystanders captured the scene on cellphone video as officers detained Floyd. The four officers have been fired but reports say they have not been charged in Floyd’s death.
Pain and anger
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 had decided to let the precinct burn late Thursday after receiving reports that protesters were trying to breach the premises. Police personnel were evacuated from the precinct and late Thursday it was set ablaze, along with several nearby buildings. “Brick and mortar is not as important as life,” Frey said in defense of the move. “We will continue to do our jobs.”
Frey also responded to tweets from President Donald Trump, who posted Friday after Frey’s “total lack of leadership”
and the “thugs” who “are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd.”
After reporters read the mayor the tweets, Frey said, “Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis.” The mayor said, “We are strong as hell.”
Twitter later flagged the comments about the “thugs.” In a box under the tweet, the social media platform said, “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
The White House later said the president did not glorify violence, but condemned it.
The FBI has joined Minneapolis police and the Hennepin County attorney’s office in the investigation. The Justice Department says the investigation is a top priority.
The city’s police union is asking the public to wait until the investigation is complete before “rushing to judgment and immediately condemning our officers.”
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 Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has apologized to the network, but that police have not. The Minnesota State Patrol later said the crew members were released after it was confirmed they were with the media.
Crew members could be heard saying they were with CNN during the confrontation.
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 police brutality.
Law enforcement officers have many ways to detain people but “no police academy that we know of teaches a police officer to use their knee, to put it on their neck,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which researches and advises on police practices, told the Associated Press.
“That’s just not taught because that can impact their breathing and their carotid artery [a crucial vessel that supplies blood to the brain]. So, when police look at that video, they are shocked that those tactics were used,” said Wexler.
Floyd’s death also is drawing international attention.
Human rights criticism
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Right Michelle Bachelet said U.S. authorities have a duty to ensure that justice is done as she read off the list of black men who have lost their lives in U.S. police custody over the last few years.
“In too many cases in the past, such investigations have led to killings being deemed justified on questionable grounds, or only being addressed by administrative measures,” she said.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told CNN Thursday he is “tired of seeing black men die” and urged protesters to maintain peace. He called on police to “start doing your job the right way, because I haven’t been seeing it…I want justice. I just want justice,” he said, he fighting back tears.
Minneapolis Mayor Frey said Thursday that the violent reaction to Floyd’s death is the “result of so much built-up anger and sadness…that has been ingrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror, but 400 years,” a reference to slavery and subsequent racism.
Frey is white, and the city he leads is close to 64% white, according to the U.S. Census. Only about 19% of the city’s residents are African American.
Floyd’s death comes weeks after three people were charged with the fatal shooting in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery. The African American man was allegedly killed in February by a white former Glynn County police officer and his son who apparently mistook Arbery for a burglar while he was jogging. The two were charged only after a video of the shooting emerged several weeks later. The man who shot the video was charged.