WASHINGTON — The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was “personal” and “premeditated,” Floyd’s brother Philonise asserted in congressional testimony on Wednesday, adding to speculation that the victim and perpetrator of a crime that has gripped the world may have known each other.
Police were summoned after George Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at Cup Foods, a grocery store in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. Security camera footage shows Chauvin dragging an already handcuffed Floyd out of a police cruiser and pinning him to the pavement. Chauvin compressed Floyd’s neck with his knee, continuing to do so for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd cried out that he could not breathe. An ambulance eventually came for Floyd, but he suffered cardiac arrest and died before reaching a hospital.
Chauvin has been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. He faces charges of second-degree murder. Three other officers involved in the Floyd arrest face lesser charges. They have also been fired from the force.
Chauvin’s conduct has led not only to all-too-familiar outcries over police tactics but also to questions about whether there was personal animus between the two men. Philonise Floyd’s comments on Wednesday are bound to add to that speculation.
Floyd and Chauvin both worked as security guards at El Nuevo Rodeo, a nightclub in Minneapolis, but the extent of their relationship — or, for that matter, whether there was any relationship at all — is unclear. A former employee at the club told CBS News that Chauvin and Floyd “bumped heads” because Chauvin had a tendency to become “extremely aggressive” with clubgoers.
Philonise Floyd appeared to agree that tension between Chauvin and George Floyd may have been a contributing factor to the killing, but he offered no specifics to that effect. “I don’t really know why he did it,” he said of Chauvin’s continuing to press his knee into George Floyd’s neck, even as another officer, Thomas Lane, wondered if they should roll Floyd onto his side and allow him to breathe.
“Personally, I think it was personal, because they worked at the same place,” Philonise Floyd said. “For him to do something like that, it had to be premeditated — and he wanted to do that.”
Having laid his brother to rest in Houston on Tuesday, Philonise came to Washington on Wednesday in order to serve as a witness at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on police brutality. In his impassioned opening statement, he described how “George’s calls for help were ignored.”
The killing was captured on a video that has been viewed millions of times, and George Floyd’s poignant cries of “I can’t breathe” have become a rallying slogan for anti-police-brutality protesters who have taken to the streets in Rome, Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv and many other cities.
Earlier this week, Democrats introduced a police reform bill that would create a national registry of police misconduct, cease the flow of military equipment to police departments and prevent federal law officers from using chokeholds when making arrests.
Philonese Floyd implicitly endorsed those methods on Wednesday. “Teach them what it means to treat people with empathy and respect,” he said of law enforcement efforts. “Teach them what necessary force is. Teach them that deadly force should be used rarely and only when life is at risk.”
Watching the video of his brother’s death “felt like eight hours and 46 minutes,” he said through tears.
President Trump is reportedly preparing an executive order on police brutality, but that order is certain to fall short of what Democrats have demanded. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has already said that any move to end qualified immunity, which protects officers from legal action, would be a “nonstarter.” Police reform advocates see qualified immunity as a significant hindrance to any wider change in law enforcement practices.
At the same time, the Democratic proposal itself falls short of progressive calls to “defund the police,” a proposal that for some means an outright abolition of law enforcement and, for others, a large-scale redirection of resources toward programs for drug abusers, mentally ill people and the homeless. Proponents of this approach believe police officers could then focus on serious crimes instead of responding to quality-of-life situations that could be solved through the ministration of social services.
Some conservatives have deployed “defund the police” as a means to discredit even more moderate efforts at reform, sometimes painting all such ideas as harbingers of lawlessness. Republican witnesses to Wednesday’s hearing included Dan Bongino, a frequent Fox News guest who is closely aligned with the president.
A former member of the New York Police Department who later worked for the Secret Service, Bongino offered testimony more somber than his often pugnacious television appearances. It was, all the same, testimony that hewed closely to what has become the Republican Party’s line on policing. “I ask you, please, with the greatest of respect and humility, please stop this ‘defund the police’ abomination before someone gets hurt,” Bongino said at the conclusion of his opening statement.
A few feet away, Philonise Floyd sat listening.
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