On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after a video surfaced showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed black man who said he could not breathe and later died, the department took swift action and fired four of the officers involved. But for many people, including the victim’s family, the mayor and prominent politicians in both parties major, that was not enough.
Calls for investigations and possibly criminal charges rang out Tuesday and into Wednesday as the country reeled from the death of George Floyd — another instance of a deadly encounter between police and an unarmed person of color.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, joined those demanding an arrest Wednesday afternoon, calling for the county prosecutor to “act on the evidence before him” and charge the “arresting officer” shown pinning Floyd to the ground.
“I’ve wrestled with more than anything else in the last 36 hours one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” he said during a news conference Wednesday.
His comments came as the Minneapolis Police Department identified the four officers involved as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and Alexander Kueng.
Frey declined to say what charges should be pursued.
In interviews Tuesday and Wednesday, Floyd’s family said its wanted to see the officer charged with murder.
“I would like for those officers to be charged with murder,” his sister Bridgett Floyd said during a Wednesday appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. “Because that’s exactly what they did. They murdered my brother. He was crying for help.”
Her words echoed those of a cousin, Tera Brown, who Tuesday told CNN’s Don Lemon, “What they did was murder.”
“And almost the whole world has witnessed that,” she added, “because somebody was gracious enough to record it.”
In some of the strongest criticism from a politician, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., tweeted, “Firing the officers that killed #GeorgeFloyd was the right first move. The second? Arrest them.”
Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, called the incident a “horrific killing.”
“Watching his life be taken in the same manner, echoing nearly the same words of Eric Garner more than five years ago — ‘I can’t breathe’ — is a tragic reminder that this was not an isolated incident but a part of ingrained systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country,” Biden said Wednesday at the start of a virtual discussion about the coronavirus.
Protesters gathered Wednesday for the second day at the intersection where Floyd was stopped by police Monday night.
The outrage bubbled early Tuesday after bystander video was shared on social media. The roughly 10-minute clip showed Floyd in visible distress as a white Minneapolis Police Department officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck.
“I cannot breathe,” Floyd could be heard repeatedly saying in between making loud rasping sounds. He died later that night.
By Tuesday afternoon, the four officers involved had been fired, and two agencies, including the FBI, had been called in to investigate. But those actions did little to quell the anger brewing in Minnesota and nationwide.
Protesters who flooded the streets of Minneapolis on Tuesday evening were joined in spirit by countless politicians, activists, celebrities and athletes on social media demanding that the officers be held accountable and decrying police brutality. Hashtags dedicated to Floyd continued to dominate Twitter well into Wednesday morning as many voiced their frustrations and rallied for change.
“George Floyd should be alive today,” tweeted Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. “We should — we must, if we are to survive as a nation — change this familiar and gruesome reality.”
Booker’s words were echoed by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., among many others. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., retweeted Scott’s call for the officers to be arrested.
Minnesota’s Democratic, including U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum, took their outcry a step further, sending a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman that requested “a thorough investigation” at all levels.
“While we understand that the facts are still coming to light, and that state and local authorities are reviewing the case, we believe that the seriousness of the incident requires additional independent oversight by law enforcement at all levels,” the letter said. “We urge you to conduct a thorough investigation at the federal, state, and local level into what occurred and hold all those involved in this incident accountable.”
Scores of other public figures, ranging from Madonna to LeBron James, used their platforms to call attention to the fatal incident, with many sharing photos of Floyd or video of the incident paired with emotional messages.
“You deserved your breath, your dignity, your life. Not to die in the street, murdered by a white cop’s knee on your neck,” tweeted filmmaker Ava DuVernay. “You deserve our tears, our prayers, our rage, our action.”
In a follow-up tweet, DuVernay shared a post from Frey saying firing the officers was “the right call.”
“Arrested and convicted of murder is the right call,” DuVernay wrote.
Former National Football League linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who is now an ESPN analyst, voiced his discontent in a video posted on Twitter.
“I feel sick,” Acho said. “We’re tired. We have no more tears to cry. We have no more characters to tweet.”
A number of people, including James, saw the Minneapolis officer’s kneeling position and were reminded of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick publicly taking a knee during the national anthem starting in 2016 to protest police brutality and other social issues. Kaepernick, who parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2017 and has not played since, says he was blacklisted by the league because of his decision to protest.
“Do you understand NOW!!??!!??” James wrote in an Instagram post that featured side-by-side images of the officer and Kaepernick.
Kaepernick was also referenced by Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.
As the furor continued on social media Tuesday evening, tensions boiled over on the streets in Minneapolis as protesters clashed with officers outside the police department’s 3rd Precinct.
Protesters shattered the building’s glass door and tagged its exterior with graffiti, according to videos and photos shared on social media. Squad cars were similarly vandalized.
Police in riot gear faced off with protesters throwing rocks and water bottles, the Star Tribune reported. In response, officers fired tear gas, flash-bang devices and nonlethal bullets at the large crowd, according to the newspaper.
At least one journalist covering the protest tweeted that he had been struck in the thigh by one of the bullets. He posted photos of the welt that had formed on his leg.
Photos and video of Tuesday’s protest circulated online, prompting contrasts between the chaos in Minneapolis and the heavily armed conservative protesters who stalked state capitols in recent weeks to demonstrate against anti-lockdown measures enacted amid the novel-coronavirus pandemic.
“This is despicable,” tweeted Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, including a photo of protesters in Minneapolis sitting on the ground amid clouds of thick white smoke as officers in gas masks and tactical vests looked on.
The tactics used against the protesters Tuesday were also condemned by Omar, whose district includes Minneapolis.
“Shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed protesters when there are children present should never be tolerated. Ever,” she tweeted. “What is happening tonight in our city is shameful. Police need to exercise restraint, and our community needs space to heal.”