Police chiefs around the country publicly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officer who was seen in a video kneeling on the neck of a prone black man who struggled and gasped for breath for nearly eight minutes. The man, George Floyd, 46, who was unarmed and surrounded by police as he lay on the ground, died in custody on Monday.
The footage triggered near-universal outrage, including among law enforcement officials. Four Minneapolis officers were fired the next day, as local and federal authorities launched an investigation. Minneapolis was rocked by protests that turned violent.
The arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, is a 19-year veteran who has been the subject of a dozen police conduct complaints that resulted in no disciplinary action. Chauvin’s use of his knee to pin Floyd to the ground was a technique not approved by the city’s police department, and it drew widespread condemnation from U.S. police officials.
In a video shot by a bystander, Floyd can be heard pleading with the officer, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe.”
William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said he “can’t see any legal justification, any self-defense justification or any moral justification” for Chauvin’s actions.
Floyd’s case drew immediate comparisons, including by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer in 2014. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was vigorously defended by the city’s police union, and many fellow officers supported his actions. Garner was also unarmed, but he was on his feet and arguing with officers when he was grabbed from behind.
Floyd, who worked as a security guard at a nightclub, was handcuffed and on the ground. Police had been called to the scene by a store owner who believed a customer was trying to pass a counterfeit bill.
“I haven’t heard anybody justify this,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told the Wall Street Journal, adding that he couldn’t recall such unanimous condemnation of an officer’s actions by fellow police officers.
“The death of Mr. Floyd is deeply disturbing and should be of concern to all Americans,” said a statement from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which is headed by Acevedo. “The officers’ actions are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession.”
The statement commended Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo for his “swift and decisive action” in firing the officers involved.
“It is very evident that what occurred there was wrong,” Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said Wednesday. “There is no training across anywhere in this country — especially here in the city of Miami — that teaches someone to take that kind of action. There is a lack of humanity that is exhibited there.”
Police chiefs in Texas, in particular, were quick to condemn the killing. Floyd was a native of Houston and moved to Minneapolis five years ago.
“This is heart wrenching and we must be better than this or these senseless deaths will continue to occur,” Austin, Texas, Police Chief Brian Manley wrote on Twitter. “#GeorgeFloyd was telling officers he could not breathe but to no avail.”
“We in law enforcement CAN’T look at the George Floyd case and turn a blind eye!” Round Rock, Texas, Police Chief Allen Banks tweeted. “There is NO justification for these actions! We MUST hold officers accountable for atrocious decisions!”
“We ALL should condemn this type of policing,” Pflugerville, Texas, Police Chief Jessica Robledo wrote. “There is no place for this abuse in our profession. When you hear these words you need to STOP! We are better than this!”
“I sadly must again address my officers and ask how they felt about the unlawful homicide of George Floyd, an American citizen In Minneapolis,” University of Texas Police Chief David Carter tweeted. “Police leaders must confront the failures of our profession or we are doomed to repeat them and cast further doubt on our legitimacy.”
On Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for Chauvin’s arrest.
“I’ve wrestled with, more than anything else over the last 36 hours, one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey said. “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now. And I cannot come up with a good answer to that.”
Even President Trump, who has been known to reflexively side with police in similar cases, called for a swift federal investigation into Floyd’s death.
“My heart goes out to George’s family and friends,” he tweeted. “Justice will be served!”
Protests in Minneapolis turned deadly overnight, with a fatal shooting and stabbing, widespread looting and fires in the city. Police deployed tear gas in an attempt to control the rioting, and National Guard troops were called in.
A dissent from the general condemnation was voiced by Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, who said, “Now is not the time to rush to judgment and immediately condemn our officers.
“We ask that the community remain calm and the investigation be completed in full,” Kroll added.
But police officials elsewhere said they had seen enough.
“There is no need to see more video. There is no need to wait to see how ‘it plays out,’” Chattanooga, Tenn., Police Chief David Roddy tweeted. “There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. There IS a need to DO something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this ... turn it in.”
“The actions I watched in the video were incredibly disturbing and go against the basic law enforcement principle of preservation of life,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore tweeted Wednesday, shortly before a violent protest over Floyd's killing broke out along the 101 Freeway. “The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge — it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country.”
“I am angry,” Fort Smith, Ark., Police Chief Danny Baker said in a Facebook video. “I think it’s important for Fort Smith and for our community for me to step up and say something, because silence is not working.”
Video produced by Yahoo News National Reporter Marquise Francis
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