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Jacob Frey
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey calls on Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman to charge the arresting officer in the death of George Floyd as he speaks during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall in Minneapolis. (Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

Frey: Officer who put knee on man’s neck should be charged

The mayor of Minneapolis called Wednesday for criminal charges to be filed against the white police officer seen on video kneeling against the neck of a handcuffed black man who complained that he could not breathe and died in police custody.

Based on the video, Mayor Jacob Frey said officer Derek Chauvin should be charged in the death of George Floyd. The footage recorded by a bystander shows Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd is gasping for breath on the ground with his face against the pavement.

“I’ve wrestled with, more than anything else over the last 36 hours, one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” said Frey.

He later added: “I saw no threat. I saw nothing that would signal that this kind of force was necessary.”

The day after Floyd died, Chauvin and three other officers were fired — an act that did not stem the flood of anger that followed the widely seen video shot on Memorial Day outside a Minneapolis convenience store.

Protesters marched more than 2 miles Tuesday to the police precinct in that part of the city, with some damaging property and skirmishing with officers in riot gear who fired tear gas. A smaller protest was underway Wednesday at the same precinct, and another demonstration was planned for later in the day in the suburban neighborhood where Chauvin was believed to live.

Many activists, citizens and celebrities called for criminal charges before Frey did. But Floyd’s family and the community may have to wait months, if not years, before investigations are complete.

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer, called for peaceful protests.

“We cannot sink to the level of our oppressors, and we must not endanger others during this pandemic,” he said in a statement. “We will demand and ultimately force lasting change by shining a light on treatment that is horrific and unacceptable and by winning justice.”

Floyd’s death and the recent uproar over the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia have reopened the divide between minority communities and police that grew to a national uproar following the 2014 killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray and others.

Speaking to reporters at Cape Canaveral, Florida, President Donald Trump called the arrest in Minneapolis “a very, very sad event” and said his administration was going to “look at it.” The president was in Florida for the scheduled launch of a SpaceX rocket, which was later canceled because of threatening weather.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the arrest 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.”

It also “sends a very clear message to the black community and black lives that are under threat every single day,” Biden added, saying he was glad the mayor and the police department fired the officers, “but I don’t think that’s enough.”

Police are under pressure as more people record officers’ encounters with the public. Officers feel their jobs are misunderstood, and the unpredictable nature of policing makes it hard to explain tactics to the average person unfamiliar with tense, sometimes life-threatening work, policing experts said.

A 2017 Pew Research Center study found that police think the public does not understand the risks they face. A more recent study from September showed police were considered more trustworthy than Congress, but only 33% of black adults and half of Hispanics say believe officers treat racial and ethnic groups equally.

Shocking videos of black men dying continue to emerge during the pandemic, which is already hitting communities of color harder than white communities. Floyd himself had been laid off from his nightclub security job in the pandemic, a friend told The Associated Press. Police say Floyd matched the description of someone who tried to pay with a counterfeit bill at the convenience store.

It was unclear why Floyd was even arrested in such a physical way for what would have been a low-level crime. Police in most large cities have backed away from certain arrests to guard against further spread of the virus. The officers in the video were not wearing masks.

An autopsy will be performed to determine if the neck compression led to Floyd’s death.

Minneapolis police are conducting an internal investigation, which will center on whether the officers used excessive force through witness accounts, officer accounts and evidence, including prior disciplinary records.

The officers have not been publicly identified, though an attorney confirmed he was representing Chauvin.

News accounts show Chauvin was one of six officers who fired their weapons in the 2006 death of Wayne Reyes, who police said pointed a sawed-off shotgun at officers after stabbing two people. Chauvin also shot and wounded a man in 2008 during a struggle after Chauvin and his partner responded to a reported domestic assault. Police did not immediately respond to a request for Chauvin’s service record.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is also probing the case to determine whether criminal charges are warranted, and will likely focus on the intent of the officers, whether they meant to harm Floyd or whether the use of force was justified. The county attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to Frey’s statement.

The FBI was investigating whether the officers willfully deprived Floyd of his civil rights.

The video starts with the man on the ground, and does not show what happened in the moments before. Chauvin is kneeling on Floyd’s neck, ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” said Floyd, his face pressed to the pavement.

Floyd also moans. One of the officers tells him to “relax.” Floyd calls for his mother and says: “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts … I can’t breathe.”

Under Chauvin’s restraint, he slowly becomes motionless. Chauvin does not remove his knee until Floyd is loaded onto a gurney by paramedics.

In calling for charges, Frey contrasted Floyd’s death with others involving police that turned on split-second decisions by officers.

“We are not talking about a split-second decision that was made incorrectly. There’s somewhere around 300 seconds in those five minutes,” Frey said “Every one of which that officer could have turned back, every second of which he could have removed his knee from George Floyd’s neck.”

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