George Floyd: A Summary of the Death that Changed the Nation
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
On May 25, 46-year-old George Floyd died in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A grocery store called Cup Foods on Chicago Avenue South called the local police station, claiming that someone had tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill in the store. The police came, and arrested Floyd, pulling him out of a minivan parked on the side of the road.
Three officers pinned Floyd down on the street while a fourth held him with his knee in Floyd’s neck. Floyd does not struggle, telling the officer that he cannot breathe. An officer tells Floyd, “You are talking fine.” Floyd is unarmed and not resisting. He dies in a span of nine minutes.
“He is human, bro,” says a voice from off-camera, in the video that documented Floyd’s death. A woman asks the officer to check for Floyd’s pulse but no one responds.
A mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota commemorates the death of George Floyd. (munshots/Unsplash.com)
On Tuesday, the four officers were fired from their jobs.
The Major Cities Chiefs Association stated that the actions in the video were ‘inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession.” The Association commended “Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo for ‘his swift and decisive action to terminate the employment of the officers involved.”
Derek Chauvin, the policeman who had his knee in Floyd’s neck, is in the custody of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, as of Friday, and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The status of the three other officers is unclear, but Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey stated that he believes Chauvin should be charged with murder.
The US Department of Justice announced that they would be conducting a detailed investigation of the incident, led by US Attorney in Minnesota Erica MacDonald, with the FBI. Attorney General Barr and Eric Dreiband, the department’s Civil Rights head, will be overseeing the investigation. The prosecution surrounding the killing has been announced to be led by Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Initial reports of the official Hennepin County autopsy of Floyd did not include traumatic asphyxia or strangulation as a cause of death. However, The Washington Post reports that a private autopsy by a firm hired by the Floyd family found his cause of death was “asphyxiation from sustained pressure,” as stated by the Floyd family attorneys; the manner of death was concluded to be a homicide. Michael Baden, a medical examiner, claimed that Floyd’s death was not due to any underlying health conditions. The two concluded causes of death conflict with each other.
Peace and Violence
Protesters and the national guard face each other in Washington D.C. (Koshu Kunii/Unsplash.com)
Protests — both peaceful and violent — started breaking out across Minneapolis and at least 75 cities across the US.
The Minneapolis 3rd precinct police station was abandoned and protesters flooded it, slashing tires, breaking windows, and defacing the building. The station was set on fire and rumored to have its gas lines cut.
State troopers are present in the Twin Cities as well as in other cities across the United States where violence, rioting, and looting has broken out. The federal guard of Minnesota has been fully activated for the first time since World War II; at least 5,000 of the national guard were activated on Saturday: the largest deployment in the state’s history. Nation-wide, there are at least 17,000 activated members of the national guard, and most likely more to come.
There were several reports of fires being set in St. Paul, as well as at least 170 businesses looted or damaged at the time of CBS Minnesota’s May 29 report on Thursday.
Media and reporters aren’t safe, either. One freelance journalist, Linda Tirado, was shot and blinded in the eye in Minneapolis in the midst of running from tear gas. Kentucky reporter Kaitlin Rust and photojournalist James Dobson were both shot with pepper balls while they were live on air, with a policeman apparently aiming directly at the camera crew. Rioters attacked FOX News reporter Leland Vittert outside the White House, throwing water at him. One man grabbed Vittert’s microphone and threw it at Vittert’s retreating back. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, a reporter for KPCC and LAist, was shot in the throat with a rubber bullet in Long Beach. Ali Velshi, a reporter for MSNBC, was hit with a rubber bullet and tear-gassed.
Protesters burn a flag in Washington D.C. (Koshu Kunii/Unsplash.com)
On the I-35W freeway in Minnesota, a semi-truck accelerated directly into a crowd of about 5,000 peaceful protestors who were kneeling, turning a previously calm gathering into a chaotic event. The highway had been closed by the Department of Transportation already. The video shows individuals throwing themselves out of the way of the truck as it attempted to plow through the crowd, but none were hit. The truck driver, Bogdan Vechirko, was pulled out of the cab and beaten before being arrested for probable cause for assault. He was taken to a hospital with non-fatal injuries. Later at that location, about 150 people were arrested for defying the curfew.
In Minneapolis, Atlanta, Oakland, and Louisville, fires raged Sunday night, with police clashes and looting.
In Louisville, one death was recorded. From in a crowd of protestors, someone opened fire, and the national guard returned fire, killing someone in the shootout. Another death occurred in Detroit, where a 19-year-old man was shot from a grey Dodge Durango according to WXYZ TV.
In Atlanta, officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter were fired after they arrested two African-American protesters leaving the gathering. The police used a stun gun on both of the protesters, one of whom then had an epileptic seizure.
As of Monday, The World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial were defaced. St. John’s Church, a historic American landmark, was set on fire. Later, peaceful protests in front of the White House were cleared from the area with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flashbangs in an effort to enforce the curfew.
The CNN Center in Atlanta was attacked when a protest turned violent; in the same event, a car was set on fire. In Portland, Oregon, protestors flooded the Multnomah County Justice Center, including the local police station and county jail. In Los Angeles, protesters marched down the 110 freeway, eventually turning destructive. New York protests in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn turned violent also, with the crowd turning hostile to police and the local force retaliating with arrests and beatings. At least 200 NY protesters were arrested, and twelve officers were injured. At the Denver state capitol, protesters threw rocks and water bottles at police, and the force reacted with flashbangs, tear gas, and pepper spray.
The protest disperses in Washington D.C., amidst what may be tear gas. (Koshu Kunii/Unsplash.com)
When small businesses are looted and destroyed, many of the victims will find it hard or impossible to recover. Businesses have fallen on hard times recently due to COVID-19 related shutdowns and quarantines, and many businesses that reopened recently are once again in dire danger. Recent bail-out and stimulus bills passed by Congress have been enforced to try and alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on the economy, but the riots in large cities make it difficult for the process to go smoothly. 65% of all new jobs come from small businesses and 96% of the nation’s companies employ less than 50 people, according to The Balance.
Violent protests flare in Los Angeles; some compare them to memories of the 1992 LA Riots. The county underwent a curfew yesterday, and it is expected to continue daily. Santa Monica, downtown Los Angeles, and Long Beach looting have intensified since Sunday. Today, curfew for LA County starts at 5:00 pm and ends tomorrow at 6:00 am.
Some rioting is defended. The now frequently-used quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. — “Riot is the language of the unheard” — is repeated on social media, and painted on signs of protest. The quote is from his speech called “Other America.” He condemns violence and promotes peaceful protest, but in his speech, he also argues that the socioeconomic conditions experienced by African-Americans are equally egregious.
Across the US, however, peaceful protests are taking place without violence from either side.
Videos of police officers kneeling, praying, and standing with protesters have been recorded at certain events. Some cities have citizen-organized cleanup events the morning after nights of rioting; many are seeing conflict-free protests and sit-ins.
In Torrance, CA, a peaceful protest takes place in front of the city hall and the connected city police station. (Amy Altenberg)
Trump, Twitter, and CNN
The Black Lives Matter protest in front of the White House. (Koshu Kunii/Unsplash.com)
The President took to Twitter to share his opinions about the protests and riots surrounding the events of the George Floyd incident. Nestled among videos of speeches given to commemorate the May 30 joint NASA and SpaceX space launch, President Trump continued to tweet his thoughts.
At 9:53 pm on May 28, the President tweeted a statement including the controversial and diversely-interpreted phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Many have taken this statement as a promotion of the use of firearms against looters. This was interpreted by many as President Trump justifying gun violence as a reaction to looting.
Approximately two-and-a-half hours later, Twitter chose to designate the tweet as a statement “glorifying violence,” and subsequently added a note of this status change. The status collapses the tweet on the President’s Twitter page until anyone intentionally opens the thread for the intent of viewing it.
President Trump then tweeted a clarifying statement the next day, commenting, “Looting leads to shooting,” and describing his rhetoric as “fact, not as a statement.”
President Trump, on Monday, declared his disapproval for state and local authority leadership, implying that they have not been disciplining gatherings with enough force. He threatened to deploy federal troops to quell the rioters and looters with the Insurrection Act.
Later on Friday, at around 6:00 am, African-American CNN reporter Omar Jiminez was arrested by the Minnesota State Patrol on a live broadcast. The broadcast follows Jiminez as state police surround the four-person CNN crew, near the 3rd precinct. He informs the police that he is live on-air and that he is a reporter; he tells the police that the crew will move wherever they want them to go. The police then initially handcuff only Jiminez as he asks why he is being arrested, and the camera follows him being taken behind the patrol line. The camera runs live for a considerable time after Jiminez is arrested and a policeman carries it away, apparently unaware that it is still on.
Bill Kirkos, a CNN producer, and Leonel Mendez, a photojournalist, were also arrested in the same incident. All were members of the media and were permitted to be at the site.
The three were released around 7:00 am, and Minnesota governor Tim Walz apologized. Around the same time, a white reporter was also at the site of the 3rd precinct. He was not arrested.
Excessive Force Records and Police Manuals
Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Josh Hild/Unsplash.com)
Chauvin has a record of using excessive force in the police force. A database maintained by the Minneapolis’ Communities United Against Police Brutality documents that he was involved in two separate 2001 incidents involving the shooting of suspects. He was also involved in the fatal shooting of an armed man in 2006. This case was presented to a grand jury, which decided the officers were not guilty of wrongdoing. Chauvin has received at least three “verbal reprimands” on his record.
Tou Thao, another officer on the scene, is reported to have been involved in the beating of a man in 2014: an incident that generated a lawsuit.
Neither have ever faced discipline as a consequence of their actions, despite numerous civilian complaints filed about each officer. The absence of litigation raised against these officers with an evident record of violence has also caused fingers to be pointed at Senator Amy Klobuchar, a runner in the 2020 Presidential election, who held office as Minnesota’s top prosecutor in the period of the incidents up to 2007.
The Minneapolis police manual lists the neck restraint as a “non-deadly force option” – its definition, however, does not include compressing the subject’s trachea, which was what happened to Floyd. In the manual, chokeholds and neck restraints are reserved for “life-and-death situations.”
The New York Times asked a former Minneapolis police officer, Mylan Masson, about the training that the department used to employ. Masson explained that they stayed away from the neck “because of the vulnerability.”
COVID-19 continues to spread as the nation gathers for protests and riots. Orders for social distancing are still in effect in many major cities, and despite an effort to wear facemasks at some rallies and protests, COVID-19 still spreads. Some authorities worry that the increased gatherings will lead to an unmanageable spike of cases — and thus, death.
Even more concerning: research reveals that COVID-19 disproportionately affects Latino and black communities.
The Atlantic explains that transmission chances worsen when protestors yell, cough, or sneeze (actions that are exacerbated when pepper spray or tear gas is in the air). Mark Shrime, a Harvard researcher, interviewed by the magazine, estimates a 10 to 14 day period until there is a definite acceleration of death and new cases. Maimuna Majumder, a computational epidemiologist, agrees that COVID-19 will spread among protestors, too. But she and Georgetown professor of global health-law Alexandra Phelan also contend that the protests are a necessary reaction to injustice. The article provides some suggestions on how to avoid spreading germs during rallies.
A Note to You
From the writers of Neutral Citizen Journalism to all our readers:
We hope everyone stays safe. Whether or not you elect to protest or stay home, information comes before action, and it is a key component of democracy. We are especially thankful you read our material because you are investing in your own ability to be informed and educated. With factually correct news and accountable reporting, perhaps the effects of this chaotic season can be mitigated.
The world is watching. America is being put through the ultimate test: torn apart from the inside and simultaneously ravaged by a mysterious virus. We are high schoolers, watching our own cautious optimism be destroyed. We know that when we come of age, we will have to face a broken world in dire need of change. Our passion to promote informational equity pushes us to try to plant a seed of change in other people.
Our hearts go out to all people affected by the recent events. And we hope that you take time, as all of us have done, to think about and discuss everything happening around us.
Cover image: Koshu Kunii/Unsplash.com
Peace and Violence
Trump, Twitter, and CNN
Excessive Force Records and Police Manuals