George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has sparked riots, Black Lives Matter protests, and civil unrest from people of every race in hundreds of big cities and small towns around the country. The backlash against police and law enforcement institutions has been intense and relentless, and the tragedy may sadly be the catalyst that brings actionable reforms against systemic police abuses. We have all seen the devastating video footage of the final moments of George Floyd’s life. While police brutality is not an unfamiliar concept within the Black community, the complete and blatant disregard shown by the officers for George Floyd’s life was shocking. How did this happen?
The New York Times pieced together a fuller picture, from when the police were called to a store for Floyd’s alleged use of a counterfeit bill (this has never been confirmed to be the case) to his subsequent death. The Times combined eyewitness video from bystanders with security camera footage and official documents.
The first officers arrive and approach the vehicle George Floyd is sitting in. One officer pulls his gun while talking to Floyd through the window but soon re-holsters it. He then pulls Floyd from the vehicle and handcuffs him. At no point was the clearly distressed George Floyd violent or uncooperative. Upon walking Floyd to the police car, Floyd falls to the ground and police reports say Floyd wouldn’t get into the car.
Nine minutes into the arrest, officers Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrive in a third police car. We see Chauvin attempt to get Floyd into the car and then pull him from the vehicle. Witness footage shows three officers on top of Floyd, pressing their knees into his legs, back, and neck. At this point, we begin to hear Floyd’s anguished cries for help.
Seven minutes later, Chauvin’s knee remains firmly pressed into Floyd’s neck. In less than five minutes, we hear Floyd saying he can’t breathe at least 16 times. The crowd of bystanders begins begging them to stop, asking then to check for a pulse.
Twenty minutes into the arrest, an ambulance arrives. An EMT is seen checking Floyd’s pulse while Chauvin keeps him pinned down. After over eight minutes, Chauvin finally releases the pressure. The ambulance pulls away but calls for further medical assistance. Floyd is in cardiac arrest and help doesn’t arrive in time. George Floyd is subsequently pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The full picture is not a pretty one. We see a clear violation of police policy and a callous indifference to human life that shows why the Black Lives Matter movement is so necessary. It remains to be seen if Gorge Floyd’s untimely death will be the catalyst that finally propels real change against systemic brutality and towards police reform.