On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street; two other officers further restrained Floyd and another stood by and prevented onlookers from intervening. :6:24 During the last three minutes Floyd was motionless and had no pulse, but officers made no attempt to revive him:6:46 and Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even as arriving emergency medical technicians attempted to treat Floyd.:7:21 Floyd was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The criminal complaint against Chauvin stated that, based on body camera footage, Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe while standing outside a police car, resisted getting in the car, and intentionally fell down; he went to the ground face down and, after Chauvin placed his knee, Floyd repeatedly said “I can’t breathe”, “Mama”, and “please”. Several bystanders took videos, all of which were widely circulated and broadcast. While knee-to-neck restraints are allowed in Minnesota under certain circumstances, Chauvin’s usage of the technique has been widely criticized by law enforcement experts as excessive. At two points, the police officer that was holding Floyd’s legs asked to roll Floyd on his side. All four officers were fired the following day.
Two autopsies determined the manner of Floyd’s death to be a homicide. The Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy found that Floyd died from cardiac arrest while being restrained by officers who had employed “neck compression”, with significant conditions “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use”. An independent private autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family found that the “evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause” of death, with neck compression restricting blood flow to the brain, and back compression restricting breathing.
The FBI is conducting a federal civil rights investigation at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is also investigating. On May 29, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s death, with Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman saying he anticipated that charges would be brought against the other three officers. On June 3, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison amended Chauvin’s charges to include second-degree murder and the other three officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
After Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests against racism and police brutality were held globally. Protests in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area were initially peaceful on May 26 and became violent as a police precinct and two stores were set on fire, and many stores were looted and damaged. Some demonstrators skirmished with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Additional protests developed in over 400 cities throughout all 50 American states and internationally. Floyd’s death has been likened to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who repeated “I can’t breathe” while placed in a chokehold by a police officer in Staten Island, New York.
Floyd’s cousin and two brothers were interviewed by CNN. His cousin, Tera Brown, criticized the police, saying, “They were supposed to be there to serve and to protect and I didn’t see a single one of them lift a finger to do anything to help while he was begging for his life.” One of his brothers echoed the sentiment, saying, “They could have tased him; they could have maced him. Instead, they put their knee in his neck and just sat on him and then carried on. They treated him worse than they treat animals.”Floyd’s brother, Philonese, called for peace and said, “Everybody has a lot of pain right now, that’s why this is happening, I’m tired of seeing black people dying.”
Floyd’s longtime friend, former professional basketball player Stephen Jackson, expressed anger and sadness, saying video of Floyd’s death “just destroyed me”.
Floyd’s girlfriend asked for the community to respond to his death in a way that honors him. She said: “You can’t fight fire with fire. Everything just burns, and I’ve seen it all day – people hate, they’re hating, they’re hating, they’re mad. And he would not want that.”
Floyd’s uncle, Selwyn Jones, told the Rapid City Journal: “The thing that disturbs me the most is hearing him call for my sister.” Jones also said he expressed disgust about the video to his wife before he knew the identity of the victim. He also spoke out at a memorial rally in Rapid City, South Dakota, near where he lives.
The British Labour Party’s MPs Claudia Webbe and David Lammy criticized the death of Floyd. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that racism was real and existed in both the United States and Canada. He then urged Canadians to stand up against it.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned it as yet another killing of unarmed African-Americans and called on the United States to take “serious action” and end the repeat of such killings. She also urged protestors to “express their demands for justice peacefully” and for police to refrain from further use of excessive force.
Countries criticized by the United States for violations of human rights used the incident to criticize the U.S. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia said the United States had a history of systemic human rights abuse. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed Floyd’s death on a “racist and fascist approach” by the United States and said Turkey will be monitoring the issue. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, retweeted a tweet saying people with dark skin faced being killed “in the next few minutes” if they walked out on American streets.
African Union officials, including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, criticized the killing. U.S. embassies in Africa also condemned the incident, in a move that was described by the media as unusual.
The Dalai Lama, in India, while teaching students, condemned the killing of George Floyd by saying, “there are some who even take it as a pride to be able to kill somebody.”
The Foreign Ministry of China denounced the killing of George Floyd with the statement: “The death of George Floyd reflects the severity of racial discrimination and police brutality in the US”.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the block is “shocked and appalled” by the death of black American George Floyd in police custody, calling it “an abuse of power” and warning against further excessive use of force.
On 3 June, the Finnish Member of the Parliament for the Finns Party, Ano Turtiainen, mocked Floyd on his Twitter account. The tweet showed an image of suffocating George Floyd with his face colored pink and the phrase “Pink Floyd”.
Pope Francis addressed Floyd’s death during his weekly prayer at the Vatican on 3 June. “Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd.” Then added, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Minneapolis police officers have a record of administering neck restraints at least 237 times since the beginning of 2015. This includes 44 people who were rendered unconscious. Several law enforcement professionals said the number of unconscious individuals as a result of this maneuver seems remarkably large. Neck restraints are defined by police as “when an officer uses an arm or leg to compress someone’s neck without directly pressuring the airway.”
The use of the chokehold maneuver known as a “neck restraint” has been derided by more than a dozen law enforcement officials, who were interviewed by NBC News. The news organization provided a summation of their views: “the particular tactic Chauvin used – kneeling on a suspect’s neck – is neither taught nor sanctioned by any police agency.” A Minneapolis city official said, “Chauvin’s tactic is not permitted by the Minneapolis police department.” In general, police departments’ application of assorted types of neck restraints, described as chokeholds, are decidedly circumscribed – if not plainly illegal. The Minneapolis Police Department’s policy and procedure manual prohibit the application of neck restraints when the subject is passively resisting but in other narrowly circumscribed circumstances authorizes the application of neck restraints “that can render suspects unconscious” while classifying them as ” ‘non-deadly’ force options” for officers trained in their use, but only to the sides of the neck.
Applying a knee to the neck of a person lying on their stomach is widely rejected by law enforcement professionals because doing so can kill. At the same time, keeping a person in a prone position, with hands cuffed behind his back is meant to be of very short duration and is seen as dangerous because breathing is immediately restricted in that position. “Someone in that position can draw enough breath to gasp or speak in spurts, but they can’t breathe fully, so they gradually lose oxygen and fall unconscious.” The individual has to be quickly rolled on his side, sat up, or stood up. Pressure on a detainee’s neck can “cause fatal damage” so the maneuver must be monitored closely for the well-being of the detainee. According to the Minneapolis department’s manual, specialized training is required to use this maneuver. According to Minneapolis police policy, this maneuver can only be used as a last resort when there is no other way to subdue a suspect who is belligerently resisting arrest. Chauvin’s actions may have exceeded his purview.