‘Mad as hell’ after death of black man choked by police

Thousands of protesters march east on 38th Street toward Hiawatha Avenue during a May 26 rally in anger over the death of George Floyd. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Bystander video of a handcuffed black man gasping and struggling to breathe as a white police officer kneels on his neck at 38th & Chicago has drawn outrage from Southwest Minneapolis residents and leaders. The man, George Floyd of St. Louis Park, is now dead.

The video does not appear ambiguous. “Please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd, 46, tells the officer in the May 25 video. “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts.” Floyd, his face flat against the pavement, asks for water and his mother before going limp. The officer’s knee remains on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes as bystanders plead for him to lift it, saying, “He is a human” and “Let me see a pulse.” An ambulance arrives and takes Floyd’s motionless body to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he is pronounced dead.

The FBI is now investigating the incident, and the officer has been fired, along with three others who were at the scene. “The technique that was used is not permitted; is not a technique that our officers get trained in on,” Mayor Jacob Frey said.

Don Damond, whose fiancee, Justine, was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer in July 2017, wrote in a statement that “once again, a Minneapolis police officer has failed to demonstrate basic human decency in disregarding the sanctity of life of our citizens.”

“The emblems inscribed on every Minneapolis Police vehicle say, ‘To protect with Courage. To Serve with Compassion,’” he wrote. “This is an egregious failure of those values, and I am deeply saddened by the behavior of those officers, who clearly acted without courage, humanity or compassion.”

Fulton resident Todd Schuman, a member of the Justice for Justine group that has advocated for police reform, said that the “callous disregard for human life that’s on display in that video should make every person sick to their stomach.”

On May 26, the morning after Floyd’s death, community members began gathering outside of Cup Foods at 38th & Chicago, some placing flowers at the site where Floyd was choked. The crowd swelled into the thousands during the afternoon, with volunteers handing out water and masks. Some protesters maintained a 6-foot social distance, though many didn’t.

Kingfield resident Tony Aspholm said he was furious. Salaam Day, an 11th-grader at Washburn High School, said he was biking in the area of the incident and was forced to take a detour. He said he was “shocked” when he heard what happened and wanted to protest.

Many of Southwest Minneapolis’ elected officials expressed outrage on social media.

The District 61 legislative delegation, Frank Hornstein, Jamie Long and Scott Dibble, put out a statement calling the incident “sickening and intolerable” and pledging to stand as allies to people of color by urging “our white friends and neighbors to see this for what it is.”

Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-62B) raised broader systemic questions about the role of police. “The origins of policing in the U.S. are in slave patrols that hunted liberated enslaved people and quelled uprisings,” she wrote on Facebook, proposing to dismantle the police state “by divesting from police budgets and stripping away functions that we don’t need people with guns to do.”

Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano said that she is glad that outside investigations have been launched, that the officers need to be held accountable and that “everything that went wrong” in this case needs to be reviewed.

As police clashed with protesters outside the Third Precinct station the evening of May 26, Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, whose Ward 8 includes the 38th & Chicago area, said she was “mad as hell too” but asked the community to go home and wait for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to charge the officers.

“I don’t want to see anyone else hurt,” she wrote on Facebook. “This [is] infuriating, but we must figure out how to do this safely.”

Zac Farber contributed reporting to this story.

Photographer Isaiah Rustad followed the protesters from 38th & Chicago to Hiawatha Avenue: