George Floyd death: Police officers to be investigated for federal crimes

Protests continue in aftermath of police killing amid growing demand for criminal charges

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 28 May 2020 19:17 BST
George Floyd: Police release new bodycam video

Federal agents have opened an investigation to determine whether there was a “willful violation of federal civil rights” in the killing of George Floyd, following protests and riots demanding police officers be charged for murder following his death.

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey has called for criminal charges against a white police officer who was captured on video kneeling against the neck of Mr Floyd, a black man, while he was handcuffed and complained that he wasn’t able to breathe.

His death and the officers’ dismissal from the force have galvanised riots and mass protests urging officials to press criminal charges.

The US Department of Justice announced on Thursday that the case was a “top priority” within the agency, but a delayed press conference that evening signalled that prosecutors were not prepared to release any new details, instead pleading with residents to “remain calm” as the investigation continued.

“We understand the severity of the situation unfolding,” US attorney Erica MacDonald said. ”It breaks my heart to see what is going on in our streets in Minneapolis, and in St Paul, and in some of our suburbs. And I am pleading – I am pleading with individuals – to remain calm and to let us conduct this investigation.”

Asked why officials have not already pursued criminal charges based on the video of Mr Floyd’s death along, Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman said that while the “video is graphic and horrific” there is “other evidence that does not support a criminal charge” and his office – responsible for pressing state charges – will not “rush” an investigation.

Mr Floyd’s death, following the recent arrests of three white men in Georgia more than two months after the killing of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, has stressed the divide among communities of colour and law enforcement ostensibly sworn to protect them, drawing international attention to the nation’s policing disparities and comparisons to the uproar and aftermath following the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other black Americans.

The Minneapolis Police Department has identified the fired officers as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.

Black residents have routinely filed complaints against officers in the department for excessive force. Mr Chauvin has been the subject of several complaints and, in 2008, shot a man who allegedly tried to reach for his gun, according to reports. He also was on the scene of several other police shootings.

While black residents make up only 20 per cent of the population of Minneapolis, they are disproportionately more likely to be pulled over, arrested and have force used against them, compared to similar statistics among white residents, police department data shows. Over the last decade, black residents were victims in 60 per cent of shootings involving Minneapolis police.

Protests continued on Thursday as several buildings continued to smoulder following chaotic scenes on Wednesday, as police in riot gear fired tear gas cannisters into crowds of protesters, and images captured crowds breaking windows and looting stores.

Minnesota governor Tim Walz activated the National Guard and deployed 200 state troopers on Thursday to boost law enforcement in the city.

National Guard Maj Gen Jon Jensen said: “We are ready and prepared to answer the governor’s request. We are currently in process of assigning and preparing units to respond.”

Mayor Jacob Frey said the protests are ”the result of so much built-up anger and sadness – anger and sadness that has been engrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror, but 400 years.”

“If you’re feeling that sadness and anger, it’s not only understandable, it’s right,” he said on Thursday. “It’s the reflection of the truth our black community has lived.”

The sadness must “also be understood by our non-black communities”, he said, otherwise it “ignores the values we all claim to have”.

“Until we name this virus, this disease that has infected America for the past 400 years, we will never, ever resolve this issue,” said city council vice pesident Andrea Jenkins, who has urged city officials to issue a state of emergency “declaring racism as a public health issue”.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Thursday that “the death of George Floyd is absolutely tragic — that video that we saw, that I saw, that my staff saw, that the president saw.”

In a statement, Donald Trump said he has "asked for this investigation to be expedited" and that "justice will be served". The president was briefed on Thursday by US attorney general William Bar and the FBI.

His rival Joe Biden said that Mr Floyd’s death was “part of an ingrained, systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country” and “cuts at the very heart of our sacred belief that all Americans are equal in rights”.

He said his killing ”sends a very clear message to the black community and black lives that are under threat every single day” and that the officers’ removal from the force is “not enough”.

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