ST. PAUL — Thousands of people, many donning masks in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, gathered in Minneapolis's Powderhorn neighborhood on the evening of Tuesday, May 26 to decry police brutality and racism after a black man's encounter with city police turned deadly.
A peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd turned violent late Tuesday as groups of dozens of protesters clashed with police officers outside of the city's Third Police Precinct building after demonstrators broke glass windows outside the precinct and in parked police vehicles nearby.
Police officers tried to disperse protesters by launching several rounds of chemical irritants and rubber bullets. Demonstrators and journalists in the area reported they’d been hit.
Four Minneapolis police officers were fired after the deadly encounter Monday night, during which one officer reportedly pressed his knee against a man's neck for several minutes as he said, "I can't breathe." The other officers didn't intervene and the man died later that night. He was identified by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office as Floyd, 46, of St. Louis Park.
During a Tuesday news conference, the afternoon after the incident, Minneapolis Police Department Chief Medaria Arradondo said he was awake "all night" Monday to come to his decision to terminate the four officers who have yet to be publicly identified. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted that the firings were "the right call."
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Federal Bureau of Investigation are each launching separate probes into the death after a video circulated online and local leaders called the encounter "disturbing" and "sickening."
Minneapolis police responded to a report of a forgery in progress about 8 p.m. Monday, May 25, according to a news release from the department. Officers were alerted that the suspect appeared to be under the influence and found Floyd in a blue vehicle that seemed to match the description called in.
Police reported that Floyd appeared to be suffering "medical distress" after he was asked to exit his vehicle, physically resisted officers and was handcuffed.
The video shows Floyd handcuffed and pinned to the ground facedown while an officer presses his knee into the back of the man's neck for several minutes.
"Please, please, please, I can't breathe," Floyd told the officer in the video recording. The video doesn't show the man's arrest.
The incident mirrored the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a black man placed in a chokehold by police in New York City.
Viewer caution: Graphic video of the arrest.
Minneapolis Police Department Public Information Officer John Elder in a news release said two officers then called for an ambulance and the man was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he died.
According to a Tuesday afternoon news release from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Floyd's cause of death is still yet to be determined.
Arradondo said the department would cooperate fully with state and federal officials in their investigations. He said he requested the investigations after viewing the video and speaking with community members.
"We clearly have policies in place regarding placing someone under control," Arradondo said.
Frey later Tuesday told reporters and local leaders that the hold the officer used on Floyd was not authorized or taught by the department. And he said he would seek justice for Floyd as well as accountability for the officers involved.
“The technique that was used is not permitted, is not a technique our officers get trained in on,” Frey said in the conversation broadcast by North News. “There is no reason to apply that pressure to someone’s neck.”
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis in a Tuesday statement said it will "provide full support to the involved officers" as investigators review all video footage and the medical examiner's report. They added that the involved officers' actions and protocol will be reviewed after they provide statements.
"Now is not the time to rush to judgment and immediately condemn our officers," the union said. "We ask that the community remain calm and let the investigation be completed in full."
Officers were wearing body cameras that were activated during the stop. The BCA in a statement said it would present its findings without recommendation to the Hennepin County Attorney's office.
In a Tuesday statement, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said its team was "shocked and saddened" by the video. Several of the county's attorneys are assisting to direct the investigation and are consulting with the U.S. Attorney.
"We promise a thorough, expedited review consistent with our on-going commitment to justice," the office said. "Every person is entitled to fairness; no person stands above the law."
Ellison on Tuesday said his office would assist the Hennepin County Attorney's Office as needed.
George Floyd mattered. Somebody loved him. His life had value. He lost it yesterday in a way that raises pain and trauma once again for so many. We owe it to everyone affected to investigate thoroughly. We will seek justice and we will find it.— Attorney General Keith Ellison (@AGEllison) May 26, 2020
"George Floyd mattered. Somebody loved him. His life was important. It had value. He lost it yesterday in an encounter with law enforcement that once again raises pain and trauma for so many people," Ellison said in a statement. "Whenever someone dies at the hand of law enforcement or state power, we owe it to everyone affected to investigate thoroughly. Even though video exists, a careful investigation is necessary and has already begun."
According to a Tuesday news release from his law firm, Ben Crump, a Tallahassee, Florida-based attorney has been retained to represent the victim's family. Crump has represented several other families of unarmed black people who were killed by police or others, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.
He is currently representing Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in February while jogging unarmed in his neighborhood in Georgia. In Tuesday's statement, Crump said the Minneapolis officer used "abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force," which "cost the life of a man who was being detained by police for questioning about a non-violent charge."
"How many 'while black' deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends?" Crump asked.
The American Civil Liberties Union and its Minnesota chapter called for a thorough investigation of Floyd's death and a review and reform of police practices and policies.
“Even in places like Minneapolis, where chokeholds are technically banned, black men are targeted by the police for low-level offenses and are subjected to unreasonable, unnecessary violence," ACLU Policing Policy Advisor Paige Fernandez said. "Make no mistake: George Floyd should be alive today. For police to call his death a ‘medical incident’ is an insult.”
State and local leaders on Tuesday also voiced their disdain about the incident in recorded news conferences and on social media.
“He should not have died. What we saw was horrible. Completely and utterly messed up,” Frey said early Tuesday. "For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. . . . When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense."
Gov. Tim Walz on Twitter said the video was "disturbing" and "sickening."
"The lack of humanity in this disturbing video is sickening. We will get answers and seek justice," he wrote.