Editor’s Note: This story was updated on June 4 to include more information about George Floyd’s autopsy, charges against police officers, and political response.
The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, after an interaction with police has brought racial injustice concerns in the United States to a boiling point.
The 46-year-old man died after being arrested by police outside a store in Minneapolis, Minn.
His arrest was captured on cellphone video, showing a white police office kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while he was pinned to the ground. The video led to widespread rage across the country, spurring protests, which sometimes included looting and vandalism.
Derek Chauvin, 44, the white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck in the video, was charged with second-degree murder — up from third-degree murder — and manslaughter as the protests proliferated.
Here are the key events that led to Floyd’s death and the investigation so far:
Initial issue and arrest
The ordeal started with what was believed to be a counterfeit $20 bill.
On May 25, Floyd visited Cup Foods grocery store in Minneapolis to buy a pack of cigarettes. A store employee believed the bill he used to be counterfeit and reported it to the police.
The store owner, Mike Abumayyaleh, told NBC that he was not at work the day of the incident but that his employees told him that Floyd initially came into the store with a man and a woman. The man tried to use what an employee suspected was a fake bill, which the employee caught and gave back to the man. Abumayyaleh said Floyd returned to the store about 10 minutes later and tried to use a suspicious $20 bill to make a purchase. The employee didn’t realize at first, according to Abumayyaleh, but when they did, they followed protocol and called police.
In a call to 911, the employee told the operator that he asked Floyd for the cigarettes back but “he doesn’t want to do that,” an official transcript reads. The employee also claimed Floyd was “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself.”
Floyd was near the store, sitting in a car with two other people, when the police arrived.
The officers involved were responding to a report of a forgery in progress, according to a police department account. Once at the store, they found a man fitting the suspect’s description, Floyd, sitting in a car. The police department said a physical altercation between the officers and Floyd unfolded after Floyd got out of the car.
When the officers approached the car, one of them, Thomas Lane, began speaking with Floyd, according to a statement from prosecutors.
“He pulled his gun out and pointed it at Mr. Floyd’s open window and directed Mr. Floyd to show his hands,” it reads. There is no reason stated for why the officer brandished his weapon.
The prosecutors say Lane put the gun away once Floyd put his hands on the steering wheel but “put his hands on Mr. Floyd, and pulled him out of the car” when he ordered him to step out. Floyd then “actively resisted being handcuffed,” the statement reads. When the officers tried to bring Floyd to their cruiser, he “stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic,” the report states.
The police account has come in contrast with at least one witness account and surveillance video obtained by CNN. The case is still under investigation.
Chauvin arrived on the scene shortly after to help the officers in getting Floyd into the police cruiser. The report said Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the vehicle, causing him to fall to the ground.
He laid on the ground “face down and still handcuffed.” That’s when onlookers began to record cellphone videos.
The cellphone video taken by witnesses does not show what precipitated the confrontation.
The first image in the video shows Floyd lying beside the rear wheel of a vehicle. An officer is on top of him, pinning him to the cement by pressing a knee into his neck.
“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd can be heard begging while on the ground.
“My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe.”
The arrest was filmed by multiple people and shared widely on social media, subsequently going viral. In the video, bystanders can be heard yelling at police to let him get up.
After several minutes, Floyd gradually becomes quiet and does not move.
The prosecutors’ report indicates Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Floyd was taken to a hospital by ambulance, where he died a short time later. Police have said Floyd did not have a weapon, nor were any weapons involved in the incident.
Who is George Floyd?
Floyd was a father who moved to Minnesota for a better life and work, according to his family.
He has two daughters, the youngest of whom is six.
Floyd worked security at a restaurant but, like millions of Americans, had been out of work since the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the state’s service industry. The restaurant’s owner told local media that he was a close friend to many of his coworkers.
“A friend that was always available to work, always helps, always helped with cleaning up, we loved him a lot,” said the owner of Conga Latin Bistro. “He had good customer service.”
His family described him as a “gentle giant” who was dedicated to his church community.
“You know, if he was here, he would say that he’s a man of God. He would stand on that firmly,” Courtney Ross, Floyd’s fiancée, told KTRK.
His family has acknowledged that his life had its ups and downs. In 2007, he was charged with armed robbery in a home invasion in Houston, and in 2009, he was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal, according to court documents, as reported by Al Jazeera.
His move to Minnesota was part of his path toward betterment, his family said.
Floyd was also a regular at Cup Foods, where the arrest unfolded. The store owner, Abumayyaleh, told NBC that he never had an issue with Floyd in the past, describing him as a pleasant customer. He said Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”
Floyd’s death is being investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The FBI has asked for anyone who was in the area before, during or after the incident to come forward with information — particularly any photos or videos that could be relevant to the case.
Attorney General William Barr said the federal investigation will seek to “determine whether any federal civil rights laws were violated” related to Floyd’s death. He called the video images of the incident “harrowing to watch” and “deeply disturbing.” He added that the process is “proceeding quickly.”
Chauvin was arrested on May 29 on murder charges in Floyd’s death. Throughout his time as an officer, Chauvin has had a number of complaints.
In 2007, Chauvin received a letter of reprimand for violating the department’s mobile and video recording policy, according to disciplinary records obtained by Reuters through a public records request. He was also involved in the fatal shooting of another suspect and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department, according to police records and news reports compiled by the Washington Post.
The three other officers dismissed from the department with Chauvin — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were later charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Autopsy reports have also become a key part of the case.
An autopsy commissioned by the Floyd family concluded that the 46-year-old died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.
The full autopsy report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office in Minneapolis, released June 3, concluded that Floyd’s death was caused by cardiac arrest as police restrained him and compressed his neck. It listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use under “other significant conditions” involved in the death, but not under the “cause of death.”
It also notes that Floyd had previously tested positive for COVID-19 but appeared asymptomatic.
Protests and renewed unrest
Floyd’s death sparked widespread outrage and protests across America and the world.
Millions have taken to city streets since May 27 to protest police brutality and racial injustice. The epicentre of the demonstrations has been in Minneapolis, where protesters stormed a police precinct and set it ablaze, but has continued spreading across the U.S. since.
The violence continued through the weekend. Some demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at police in Philadelphia, Pa., set fires near the White House and faced tear gas and rubber bullets in Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Ga., and other cities. Deaths have been recorded in Kentucky, Detroit, Mich., and Minneapolis. Concerns have been raised about looters and vandals taking advantage of protests over racial injustice.
Meanwhile, police and political leaders continue to weigh how to address the boiling rage, with curfews and, in some cases, the U.S. National Guard.
The swell in resentment across the country even prompted a threat of federal intervention from the president.
U.S. President Donald Trump has urged the governors of states that are seeing particularly tense protests to be more aggressive against demonstrators.
On June 1, he suggested he would call in the troops if governors refuse to make use of the National Guard, which would require him to invoke the rarely used Insurrection Act.
Protests did, however, calm over June 2 and 3 following the news that charges against Chauvin were upgraded and additional ones were laid against the other officers.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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