Four Minneapolis police officers were fired on Tuesday over the death of an unarmed black man seen on a bystander’s video lying face down in the street, gasping for air and groaning, “I can’t breathe,” while a white officer kneels on his neck for several minutes.
Mayor Jacob Frey announced the officers’ dismissal on Twitter, saying, “This is the right call.”
At a news conference earlier in the day, Frey said it was clear the death of the man, later identified as George Floyd, was unjustified, and he acknowledged that race was a factor in Monday evening’s fatal encounter.
The case was eerily reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City, who died after being put in a police chokehold and telling the officers, “I can’t breathe.”
The Minneapolis police chief, Medaria Arradondo, told the news conference that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had opened an inquiry into the incident at his request.
“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” the mayor said. “For five minutes we watched as a white police officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help.”
The officers involved were responding to a report of a forgery in progress, and found a man fitting the suspect’s description, Floyd, aged in his 40s, in a car, according to a police department account.
After Floyd exited the vehicle, the department said, a physical altercation between the officers and Floyd ensued. When they handcuffed Floyd, he appeared to be in medical distress, according to police.
‘I can’t breathe’
Cell phone footage of the incident does not show what precipitated the confrontation. It opens with Floyd seen lying beside the rear wheel of a vehicle, with a white officer pinning him to the street by pressing a knee into Floyd’s neck.
Floyd can be heard repeatedly moaning and gasping while he pleads, “Please, I can’t breathe, please, man,” as onlookers gather around, growing increasingly agitated and shouting at police to let him up. After several minutes, Floyd gradually grows quiet and ceases to move.
An ambulance took the suspect to the hospital, where he died a short time later, police said. No weapons were involved, and no officers were hurt in the incident, according to police.
In the case of Garner, he was placed in a banned chokehold by a white New York City police officer who was trying to arrest him for illegally selling loose cigarettes on the street.
Garner’s death fuelled nationwide protests against police brutality. And his dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement calling attention to a wave of African-Americans and other minorities who died at the hands of police using unjustified lethal force.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who has been retained by Floyd’s family, said in a statement, “This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge.”
“How many ‘while black’ deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends?” Crump said.