Killing of George Floyd

Incident location in Minneapolis

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. During the arrest Derek Chauvin, a white police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd's neck for about nine and a half minutes after he was handcuffed and lying face down. Two police officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, assisted Chauvin in restraining Floyd, while another officer, Tou Thao, prevented bystanders from interfering with the arrest and intervening as events unfolded.

Floyd had complained about being unable to breathe prior to being on the ground, but after being restrained he became more distressed, and continued to complain about breathing difficulties, the knee in his neck, and expressed the fear he was about to die and called for his mother. After several minutes passed Floyd stopped speaking. For a further two minutes, he lay motionless and officer Kueng found no pulse when urged to check. Despite this Chauvin refused pleas to lift his knee until medics told him to.

The following day, after videos made by witnesses and security cameras became public, all four officers were dismissed. Two autopsies found Floyd's death to be a homicide. Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter. Kueng, Lane, and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Chauvin's trial is scheduled for March 8, 2021, while the concurrent trial of the other three officers is scheduled for August 23, 2021.

Floyd's death triggered worldwide protests against police brutality, police racism, and lack of police accountability. In early June, the Minneapolis City Council voted an intent to restructure the police department as a "new community-based system of public safety". However, the city council's proposal, which became subject to an indefinite review by the Minneapolis City Charter Commission, failed to make the 2020 general ballot. The Minneapolis Police Chief cancelled contract negotiations with the police union and announced plans to bring in outside experts to examine how the union contract can be restructured to provide transparency and "flexibility for true reform".

People involved

George Floyd

George Floyd in 2016

George Perry Floyd (aged 46) was a black American born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and raised in the Third Ward of Houston, Texas. In 2014, he moved to the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. Though he resided in the nearby suburb of St. Louis Park, he was a frequent customer at the Cup Foods convenience store in south Minneapolis.

Derek Chauvin

At the time of Floyd's death, Derek Michael Chauvin, a white American, was a 44-year-old police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department. He had served in the department since 2001. Chauvin and Floyd sometimes worked overlapping shifts as security guards for a local nightclub, but the club's former owner was unsure of the extent to which they knew each other.

Tou Thao

Tou Thao, a Hmong-American, was aged 34 at the time of Floyd's death and started as a part-time community service officer in 2008. He graduated from the police academy in 2009. After a two-year layoff, he resumed work for the police in 2012. Six complaints had been filed against Thao, none resulting in disciplinary action. In 2014, a man claimed Thao handcuffed him without cause, threw him to the ground, and punched, kicked, and kneed him; the man's teeth were broken and he was hospitalized. The resulting lawsuit was settled for $25,000.

J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane

James Alexander Kueng (aged 26) and Thomas Kiernan Lane (aged 37) were licensed as law enforcement officers in August 2019. Kueng is black and Lane is white. Kueng and Lane had trained together. Chauvin was the superior officer responsible for the majority of Kueng's field training. On May 3, 2020, video of an arrest incident in Minneapolis showed Chauvin, Kueng, Lane, and another officer roughly detaining a man on the ground as bystanders pleaded for the officers to show mercy. Kueng and Lane were with Chauvin as the day was part of their field training. The man, who they detained wrongfully, said he had trouble breathing, and the incident was later said to be similar to arrest of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Kueng and Lane were in their first week as Minneapolis police officers when Floyd was killed.

Arrest and death

Initial events

Corner store near site of Floyd's death with crowd of protesters
The intersection of Chicago Avenue and E. 38th Street on May 30. Floyd was killed just left of the awning.

On the evening of May 25, 2020, at about 8:00 pm, Floyd purchased cigarettes at Cup Foods, a grocery store at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. A store employee believed Floyd had paid with a counterfeit $20 bill. Employees of the store approached Floyd while he was in his vehicle and demanded that Floyd return the cigarettes; he refused. A store employee called the police to report that Floyd had passed "fake bills", was "awfully drunk", and "not in control of himself". The interaction between Floyd and the employees was recorded by the restaurant's security camera.

At 8:08, Kueng and Lane arrived, briefly entering Cup Foods before crossing the street to Floyd's SUV. Lane tapped his flashlight on the window, startling Floyd. He asked Floyd to show his hands, and tapped again when he did not obey. Floyd apologized as he opened the car door. Lane instructed him three more times to show his hands. Six seconds after the door opened, he drew his gun and ordered Floyd to show his hands. When Floyd complied, Lane holstered his weapon. Someone parked behind Floyd's SUV began recording a video at 8:10. Following a brief struggle, Lane pulled Floyd from the SUV and handcuffed him. At 8:12, Kueng sat Floyd on the sidewalk against the wall in front of the restaurant. Lane asked Floyd if he is "on something right now", and Floyd replied "No, nothing". Kueng told Floyd he was acting "real erratic" and Floyd said that he was scared. Kueng asked Floyd about foam around his mouth, to which Floyd responded that he had been "hooping" earlier. According to criminal complaints filed against the officers by state prosecutors, Floyd was "calm" and said "thank you".

At 8:13, Kueng and Lane told Floyd he was under arrest and walked him to their police car across the street. Floyd fell to the ground next to the car; the officers picked him up and placed him against the car's door. According to prosecutors, Floyd told the officers that he was not resisting, but that he was recovering from COVID-19, that he was claustrophobic and suffered from anxiety, and that he did not want to sit in the car. While Kueng and Lane attempted to put him in the car, Floyd begged them not to, repeatedly saying "I can't breathe" and offering to lie on the ground instead. During his interview with crime investigators, Lane said that he first saw Floyd bleeding from the mouth at that moment, which he attributed to his "thrashing back and forth" in the car and hitting his face on the glass that goes to the front seat. A Minneapolis Park Police officer arrived and guarded Floyd's vehicle (across the street by the restaurant) and the two people who had been in it with Floyd.

At 8:17, Chauvin and Thao arrived in a third police car joining Kueng and Lane with Chauvin assuming command. He asked if Floyd was going to jail, and Kueng replied that he was arrested for forgery. Floyd said "I can't fucking breathe" twice. Around 8:18, security footage from Cup Foods shows Kueng struggling with Floyd for at least a minute in the driver side backseat while Thao watches. According to The New York Times, at 8:19, Chauvin pulled Floyd across the backseat from the driver side to the passenger side. Then, according to NPR, Floyd exited the vehicle, either pulled out by police or willingly. Still handcuffed, he fell to the pavement.

Chauvin kneels on Floyd's neck

While Floyd lay on his chest with his cheek to the ground, Chauvin knelt on his neck. Floyd stopped moving around 8:20, though he was still conscious. Multiple witnesses began to film the encounter, and their videos were circulated widely on the internet. At 8:20, a witness across the street began recording video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck, Kueng applying pressure to Floyd's torso, and Lane applying pressure to Floyd's legs, while Thao stood nearby. This witness stopped filming when one of the officers ordered him to leave. Also at 8:20, a second person, standing near the entrance of Cup Foods, began recording the incident. Floyd can be heard repeatedly saying "I can't breathe", "Please", and "Mama"; Lane then asked for an ambulance for Floyd, "for one bleeding from the mouth". Floyd repeated at least 16 times that he could not breathe. At one point a witness said: "You got him down. Let him breathe." After Floyd said, "I'm about to die", Chauvin told him to "relax". An officer asked Floyd, "What do you want?"; Floyd answered, "I can't breathe". Floyd said, "Please, the knee in my neck, I can't breathe."

At approximately 8:22, the officers called for an ambulance on a non-emergency basis, escalating the call to emergency status a minute later. Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd's neck. A passerby yelled to Floyd, "Well, get up, get in the car, man", and Floyd, still handcuffed and face down on the pavement, responded, "I can't", while Chauvin's knee remained on his neck. Floyd cried out "Mama!" twice. Floyd said, "My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts", requested water, and begged, "Don't kill me." One witness pointed out that Floyd was bleeding from the nose. Another told the officers that Floyd was "not even resisting arrest right now". Thao countered that Floyd was "talking, he's fine"; a witness replied that Floyd "ain't fine ... Get him off the ground ... You could have put him in the car by now. He's not resisting arrest or nothing. You're enjoying it. Look at you. Your body language explains it." As Floyd continued to cry for help, Thao said to witnesses: "This is why you don't do drugs, kids."

By 8:25, Floyd appeared unconscious, and bystanders confronted the officers about Floyd's condition. Chauvin pulled out mace to keep bystanders away as Thao moved between them and Chauvin. Bystanders repeatedly yelled that Floyd was "not responsive right now" and urged the officers to check his pulse. Kueng checked Floyd's wrist but found no pulse; the officers did not attempt to provide Floyd with medical assistance. According to the criminal complaint against Chauvin, Lane asked Chauvin twice if they should move Floyd onto his side, and Chauvin said no.

Medical response and death

At 8:27 pm, a Hennepin County ambulance arrived. Shortly thereafter, a young relative of the owner of Cup Foods attempted to intervene, but was pushed back by Thao. Emergency medical technicians checked Floyd's pulse. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for almost a minute after the ambulance arrived, despite Floyd being silent and motionless. Prosecutors said that Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's neck for seven minutes and forty-six seconds.

Around 8:29, Floyd was lifted by paramedics onto a stretcher, then loaded into an ambulance which departed for Hennepin County Medical Center. En route, the ambulance requested assistance from the Minneapolis Fire Department. At 8:32, firefighters arrived at Cup Foods; according to their report, the police officers gave no clear information regarding Floyd's condition or whereabouts, which delayed their ability to find the ambulance. Meanwhile, the ambulance reported that Floyd was entering cardiac arrest and again requested assistance, asking firefighters to meet them at the corner of 36th Street and Park Avenue. Five minutes later, the fire department reached the ambulance; two fire department medics who boarded the ambulance found Floyd unresponsive and pulseless.

Floyd was pronounced dead at 9:25 at the Hennepin County Medical Center emergency room.

Investigations and criminal charges

Minneapolis police response

Early on May 26, the Minneapolis Police Department issued a statement which said nothing about Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck: "After Floyd got out [of his car], he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress." Hours later, witness and security camera video circulating on the internet showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck. The department updated its statement by stating that new information had "been made available" and that the FBI was joining the investigation. The four officers were briefly placed on paid administrative leave before being fired later that day. On June 17 the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training took up a review of the four officers' law-enforcement licenses.

Autopsies

The medical examiner's final findings, issued June 1, found that Floyd's heart stopped while he was being restrained and that his death was a homicide caused by "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression". Fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use may have increased the likelihood of death. Other significant conditions were arteriosclerotic heart disease and hypertensive heart disease. The report states that on April 3 Floyd had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but does not list it as a fatal or other significant condition.

Floyd's family commissioned a second autopsy, carried out by Michael Baden, a pathologist and former New York City chief medical examiner who later autopsied Eric Garner, and attended by Allecia Wilson, director of autopsy and forensic services at the University of Michigan Medical School. From the evidence available to them, which did not include a toxicology report or unspecified bodily samples, Baden and Wilson announced on June 1 their finding that Floyd's death was a homicide caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression. Also, Floyd had no underlying medical problem that contributed to his death. Baden said neck compression affected blood flow to the brain and being able to speak does not mean that someone is able to breathe.

Misinterpretation of the two autopsy reports by the public and media created initial confusion about how medical examiners were characterizing the manner of Floyd's death. In early June 2020, media reported that the independent autopsy was in discordance with the preliminary reports of the Hennepin County Medical Officer. However, the preliminary autopsy findings were not intended to be released publicly and only portions of the preliminary report were selectively quoted by prosecutors in the filing of charges against Chauvin. The Hennepin County medical examiner concluded in their full report that Floyd's death was the result of a homicide. One legal expert said, "Now that we've seen the ultimate conclusion, I don't see any material differences for legal purposes between the two autopsies."

No examiner mentioned excited delirium, a condition which concerned Lane and that he discussed with Chauvin while Floyd was pinned down.

Federal investigation

On May 26, the FBI announced it was reviewing the incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department. On May 28, the United States Department of Justice released a joint statement with the FBI, saying that their investigation into Floyd's death was "a top priority" and outlining the investigation's next steps: a "comprehensive investigation will compile all available information and thoroughly evaluate evidence and information obtained from witnesses ... If it is determined that there has been a violation of federal law, criminal charges will be sought". According to some commentators, the statement was considered stronger than usual as the department often had a more muted tone.

Failed plea bargain agreement

On May 28, state and federal prosecutors held a press conference at a regional FBI office in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, in what was anticipated to be a major development to the case against the officers who were at the scene of Floyd's death. However, Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman, the local official with jurisdiction to bring forth criminal charges for police misconduct, said his office needed more time to investigate. In explaining the anticipation of the media briefing and its two-hour delayed start, U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said, "I thought we would have another development to talk to you about, but we don’t". Weeks later, on June 9, it was revealed that state and federal prosecutors were negotiating a plea deal with former officer Derek Chauvin that would have included state murder charges and federal civil rights charges, but the deal fell apart after United States Attorney General William Barr rejected the arrangement. Chauvin worried about his prospects of winning a case against him and at the time he was willing to plead to third-degree murder and accept a 10-year prison sentence. As Chauvin would have served time in federal prison, the federal government had a role in approving the plea agreement. Barr believed that protesters over the killing of Floyd might view agreement as being too lenient and coming before a full investigation of the incident.

State criminal charges

On May 29, 2020, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and held at Oak Park Heights state prison. According to the criminal complaint, police are trained that the neck restraint that he applied "with a subject in prone position is inherently dangerous". On June 3, 2020, the charge against Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree murder, and the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

State civil rights action

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights opened an investigation into the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department on June 2. On June 5, the Minneapolis City Council authorized the mayor to enter a restraining order with the State of Minnesota banning chokeholds and neck restraints, requiring police officers to intervene against other officers' use of excessive force, and requiring authorization from the police chief or other designate before using crowd-control weapons such as chemical agents and rubber bullets. On June 8, a Hennepin County Court judge ordered the Minneapolis Police Department to cooperate with a civil rights investigation, and extended the restrictions on the department to require that the chief make discipline decisions in a timely and transparent manner, and that certain outside investigators be given authority to audit[further explanation needed] body-worn camera footage and to file or amend complaints on behalf of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department.

Civil litigation

The family of George Floyd filed a lawsuit in federal court in July 2020 against the City of Minneapolis and the four former police officers involved in the killing. The complaint said Floyd's Fourth Amendment rights were violated by "excessive use of unjustified, excessive, illegal, and deadly force". The lawsuit did not specify the amount of monetary damages the family sought.

Trial of Derek Chauvin

Pre-trial proceedings

Chauvin was released on conditional bail on October 7, 2020, after a non-cash bond of $1 million was posted. Court documentation provided that Chauvin's release is more supervised and will be forfeited if he declines to appear before a magistrate, refuses to appear in court on scheduled dates, leaves the state of Minnesota without court approval, or has contact with Floyd's family. On October 22, 2020, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the third degree murder charge against Chauvin, but also denied Chauvin's motion to dismiss the other charges.

On August 29, 2020, attorneys for Derek Chauvin filed a motion for dismissal, claiming that Floyd most likely died as a result of drug use and preexisting medical conditions. On the same day, prosecutors moved to increase potential sentences for the four officers beyond the guidelines for all four accused, arguing that Floyd was vulnerable while being held down on the ground in handcuffs and was treated cruelly. Despite dismissing the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, the presiding judge also tossed Chauvin's motion to dismiss the more serious second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter charges.

Trial schedule

Chauvin's trial is scheduled to commence on March 8, 2021, in Hennepin County. It will be presided over by District Judge Peter Cahill. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison's office is leading the prosecution of Chauvin with assistance from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. In January 2021, Judge Cahill ruled that the trial of Chauvin would be split from Kueng, Lane and Thao, and cited limitations of physical space and the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

Trial of Kueng, Lane, and Thao

Pre-trial proceedings

On June 10, 2020, Lane was released on bail; his attorney asserted that he warned Chauvin of the danger of severe harm to Floyd, and that doing so was all that was required under Minneapolis police regulations at the time. On June 19, Kueng became the second charged officer to be released on bail. Thao then followed suit on July 4.

Trial schedule

Kueng, Lane, and Thao will stand trial together, beginning on August 23, 2021.

Memorials, protests, and reactions

A makeshift memorial outside the store where Floyd was killed

The area near the location where Floyd was killed became a makeshift memorial throughout May 26, with many placards paying tribute to him and referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. As the day progressed, more people came to demonstrate against Floyd's death. Hundreds of people, then marched to the 3rd Precinct of the Minneapolis Police. Participants used posters and slogans with phrases such as "Justice for George", "I can't breathe", and "Black Lives Matter". On September 18, the Minneapolis City Council approved designating the section of Chicago Avenue between 37th and 39th Streets as George Perry Floyd Jr. Place, with a marker at the intersection with 38th Street where the incident took place. The intersection has been closed and occupied by demonstrators who said they won't leave until their demands regarding anti-racism and property tax are met.

Unrest began in local protests in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area before quickly spreading nationwide and in over 60 countries internationally supporting Black Lives Matter. Over 2,000 cities in the US have seen demonstrations as of June 13. While the majority of protests have been peaceful, demonstrations in some cities descended into riots and looting, with more being marked by street skirmishes and significant police brutality, notably against peaceful protesters and reporters. At least 200 cities in the U.S. had imposed curfews by June 3, while more than 30 states and Washington, D.C, activated over 62,000 National Guard personnel due to the mass unrest.

Floyd's brother stands where Floyd was killed

The protests were initially peaceful, but later there was vandalism of stores; at the 3rd Precinct police station windows were broken and fires set. Police in riot gear used tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets and smoke bombs, and some protesters threw rocks at the police. The media highlighted the apparent differences in aggression between the police response to these protests versus the more measured response to the 2020 United States anti-lockdown protests featuring gun-wielding white protesters. This sentiment also spread on social media.

While peaceful protests continued, others again became violent after sundown, with the pattern repeating for several days. As of June 9, the Star Tribune estimated 570 businesses in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area had been vandalized or destroyed, including 67 destroyed by fire.

Protester holding up a sign reading # I can't breathe George Floyd '93
A memorial vigil at Yates High School, from which Floyd graduated, in Houston, Texas

Following the rioting, a nighttime curfew in Minneapolis–Saint Paul and Dakota County was established on May 29. 500 Minnesota National Guard soldiers were later dispatched to the area to enforce the curfew, but to little effect, with about 1,000 protesters being able to march peacefully on Interstate 35 well into curfew.

A public memorial, with Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy, was held June 4 at North Central University in Minneapolis. A public viewing and a family memorial was held in Raeford, North Carolina on June 6, near Floyd's hometown. Floyd's family held a public memorial in Houston on June 8, and a private service on June 9. The family said professional boxer Floyd Mayweather paid for the services. Floyd's body was on public view on June 8 in his hometown of Houston. Former Vice President and the 2020 Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, met with the Floyd family privately and gave a video message at the funeral. Floyd is buried next to his mother in Pearland, Texas.

Protesters along funeral procession wearing COVID mass and holding signs
Along Floyd's funeral procession route in Pearland, Texas on June 9

Mass Protests demanding justice for George Floyd, in some cases also to demonstrate against issues with police brutality in their own countries, took place in over 2,000 cities in the US and around the world, including New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; Toronto; Mashhad; Milan; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Des Moines; Houston; Louisville; Memphis; Charlotte, North Carolina; Oakland; Portland, Oregon; San Jose; Seattle; outside the White House in Washington; outside Chauvin's summer home in Windermere, Florida; and in many other locations. On May 30, 12 states called up the National Guard, and at least 12 major cities imposed curfews that weekend. By June 14, protests had extended into a third week after Floyd's death in many cities, accompanied by calls to reform and defund police departments throughout the United States.

Flowers and slogans in the intersection near which Floyd was killed (May 30)

The length of time that Chauvin was originally reported to have had his knee on Floyd's neck, eight minutes forty-six seconds, was widely commemorated as a "moment of silence" to honor Floyd. It was also used in chants, protest signs, and messages, as were the words "I can't breathe".

Numerous statues and monuments honoring persons or events associated with slavery and racism were vandalized, removed, or destroyed during the protests in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In November 2020 Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who filmed Floyd's restraint, was chosen to receive the PEN / Benenson Courage Award. Association president Suzanne Nossel said that Frazier's act "lit the flames of a courageous movement calling for an end to systemic racism and police violence".

Conspiracy theories[vague] began spreading soon after Floyd's death. The Los Angeles Times said on June 22 that some theories had been "amplified by a growing number of people on the far right, including some Republican leaders" but that "some Republicans (had) begun pushing back" on false claims and those spreading rumors.

See also

Further reading

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article Killing of George Floyd, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.