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George Floyd: Another Senseless Death

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Another African American man loses his life in the custody of police. This time the whole incident was captured on video. The original video showed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd for more than 8 minutes while the handcuffed Floyd pleaded for his life.

Another video shot from a different angle appears to show three officers kneeling on Floyd, all the while he is in handcuffs.

The encounter began Monday around 8 p.m. when an employee at the Cup Foods convenience store called police to say that a customer later identified as Floyd had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

In the criminal complaint cited by the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office, ““Officer Lane ordered Mr. Floyd out of the car, put his hands on Mr. Floyd, and pulled him out of the car. Officer Lane handcuffed Mr. Floyd. Mr. Floyd actively resisted being handcuffed. Once handcuffed, Mr. Floyd became compliant and walked with Officer Lane to the sidewalk and sat on the ground at Officer Lane’s direction.”

The video was released by Rashad West, owner of Dragon Wok restaurant. He told CNN that he “did not see any resistance, not at all.” There is no audio; Floyd’s facial expression can be read as distressed, but he does not appear to be yelling or acting aggressively.

The police account states that Floyd actively resisted getting into the squad car. That’s when Chauvin began kneeling on his neck. On the bystanders’ video, Floyd complains of pain and of not being able to breathe as Chauvin keeps a knee on his neck. Onlookers are heard urging Chauvin to let him up.

Chauvin and the three other officers were fired on Tuesday. Late yesterday, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. (In Minnesota, third degree murder does not require intent, as in first degree murder charges.) If convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, Chauvin faces 25 years in prison on the first charge and up to 10 years on the second. This is not the first time the officer has been in hot water. He has a history of disciplinary infractions.

Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and none of the video footage indicate that he was resisting. The only thing he did was plead for his life, “I can’t breathe.” Why did this happen? Why didn’t the other officers stop it? Did George Floyd have to die over an alleged counterfeit bill? Chauvin continued to compress Floyd’s neck for more than 2 and a half minutes after he was non-responsive and refused an EMT request to assess Floyd’s pulse according to information related to the investigation. So, in the midst of a pandemic we have another senseless and tragic situation involving the death of an African-American man at the hands of a police officer. 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

More than 20 years ago, New York City witnessed a similarly horrific incident. In the early hours of February 4, 1999, a 23-year-old Guinean immigrant named Amadou Diallo was shot and killed by four New York City Police Department plain-clothed officers—Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss. Carroll would later claim to have mistaken him for a rape suspect from one year earlier, though his claim was never confirmed by any objective evidence. The officers fired a combined total of 41 shots, 19 of which struck Diallo.

8 minutes and 46 seconds, 41 shots. Think about that for a moment. Both victims were black and unarmed. What is the problem here?

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