Being black in America should not be a death sentence,”white police officer in Minneapolis pinned Black Man to Death

An FBI investigation is underway following a fatal encounter - AFP

Four police officers have been fired over the death of a black man who was pinned down by a white officer in Minneapolis, in a case that has drawn comparisons Eric Garner, the African American man who died in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by police.

Footage of the arrest on Monday night showed the man pleading “please, I can’t breathe” with the officer, who then kept his knee on the man’s neck for several minutes after he stopped moving.

The man was identified as George Floyd by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights and personal injury lawyer who said he had been hired by Mr Floyd’s family.

“We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him into the police car and get off his neck,” Mr Crump said. “This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge.”

The footage of the arrest drew condemnation from officials across Minnesota, including from Senator Amy Klobuchar, the former Democratic presidential candidate.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, as he apologised to the black community.

“For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” Mr Frey said.

Minneapolis police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case and resisted arrest. The video shows an unidentified officer kneeling on his neck and ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Mr Floyd is heard telling the officer.

Minutes pass and Mr Floyd man becomes motionless under the officer’s restraint. The officer leaves his knee on his neck for several minutes more.

The arrest drew the attention of several witnesses who gathered at the scene and became increasingly frustrated with the police as they watched Mr Floyd plead. In the footage, one bystander yells at the officers to check Mr Floyd’s pulse, another points out that his nose is bleeding.

Video of the incident shows a white police officer had a black man pinned to the ground with his knee on the man's neck. (Darnella Frazier via Facebook)

“The man looked already dead before the ambulance even got there. He was clearly trying to tell them he couldn’t breathe and they ignored him,” Darnella Frazier, one of the people who filmed the incident, told NBC News.

NBC News does not know what happened before the video recording began.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement that he was representing the family of the man, whom he identified as George Floyd.

“We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him into the police car and get off his neck. This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by police for questioning about a non-violent charge,” Crump said.

“We will seek justice for the family of George Floyd, as we demand answers from the Minneapolis Police Department,” Crump added. “How many ‘while black’ deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends.”

A statement from the Minneapolis Police Department released early Tuesday said the officers had responded to a report of a forgery in progress and found the suspect in his car. He stepped out of the car when he was ordered to, police said, but then physically resisted officers.

“Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress,” the statement said. “Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

The four officers involved have since been fired, Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

“This is the right call,” he said.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said in a statement that this was not the time to rush to judgement and that the officers were fully cooperating in the investigation.

“We must review all video. We must wait for the medical examiner’s report,” the statement said. “Officers’ actions and training protocol will be carefully examined after the officers have provided their statements.”

Initially, police said that the department had called in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to independently investigate. A short time later, the department announced the FBI would also be investigating.

“We put out the information that we believed to be wholly honest and true. As we dug into it deeper, we realized that in fact it would be appropriate to have the FBI be apart of this investigation as well,” said the department’s director of public information, John Elder.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo added during a news conference Tuesday morning, “There was additional information that I had received, quite frankly, from a community source that just provided more context than what I had preliminary, originally.” This prompted him to get the FBI involved “knowing that there could be a question of civil rights.”

Federal agents were on the ground, Arradondo said. Body camera video was available, but has not been made public. Police said no weapons were used by anyone involved in the incident.

He said the officers involved were on paid leave. Neither of the officers in the video have been identified by the police.

A protester prays in front of a makeshift memorial to George Floyd on May 26, 2020 in Minneapolis. (Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images)
A protester prays in front of a makeshift memorial to George Floyd on May 26, 2020 in Minneapolis. (Kerem Yucel / AFP – Getty Images)

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said investigators would like to speak with anyone who recorded or witnessed the incident. The bureau would be sharing its findings with the FBI and presenting the completed investigation to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for review.

“What we saw was horrible, completely and utterly messed up,” Mayor Jacob Frey said of the video during the news conference. “I believe what I saw, and what I saw was wrong at every level.”

“This man’s life matters,” Frey said. “He should not have died, he was a human being and his life mattered. … Whatever the investigation reveals, it does not change the single truth that he should be with us this morning.”

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Frey said. “When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help, and this officer failed in the most basic human sense.”

A protest was planned for Tuesday night at the scene of the incident. Frey encouraged protesters to express their anger, but asked them to do so safely and while social distancing.

Jovanni Thunstrom, the owner of Conga Latin Bistro, said Floyd had worked there as a security guard for more than five years. He said Floyd was also a friend and had been a tenant of his.

He wrote on Facebook that he first saw the video and later found out the person who died was Floyd. He said he was writing the post through teary eyes.

“My employee George Floyd was murdered by a police officer that had no compassion, used his position to commit a murder of someone that was begging for his life,” Thunstrom wrote.

Thunstrom asked people who remembered the “gentle giant,” who worked as a security guard at the Minneapolis bar and restaurant, to “please stand with us.”

“Everyone who knows him knew he loved his hugs from his regulars when working as a security guard and would be mad if you didn’t stop to greet him because he honestly loved seeing everyone and watching everyone have fun,” Thunstrom wrote on Facebook.

In a statement, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. said, “Justice must be served for this man and his family, justice must be served for our community, and justice must be served for our country.”

“We heard his repeated calls for help. We heard him say over and over again that he could not breathe. And now we have seen yet another horrifying and gut-wrenching instance of an African American man dying,” Klobuchar said.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Minnesota called for a fair investigation and justice for Floyd.

“Nearly six years after Eric Garner’s death in New York — and four years after Philando Castile’s in Minnesota — this tragic video shows how little meaningful change has emerged to prevent police from taking the lives of Black people,” said Paige Fernandez, policing policy advisor for the ACLU. “Make no mistake: George Floyd should be alive today. The officers responsible must be held accountable.”

“The public has seen the video,” Fernandez added. “To call this a ‘medical incident’ is an insult.”

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