Protests have broken out in cities across the United States calling for justice following the death of George Floyd in police custody when a white officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into the unarmed Black man’s neck for several minutes.
In scenes both peaceful and violent across the country, thousands of protesters on Friday chanted “no justice, no peace” and “say his name. George Floyd.” They hoisted signs reading: “He said I can’t breathe. Justice for George.”
The demonstrations came as Derek Chauvin, the officer involved in Floyd’s death, was arrested and charged with one count each of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Graphic video footage taken on an onlooker’s cellphone and widely circulated on the internet shows Floyd – with Chauvin’s knee pressed into his neck – gasping for air and repeatedly groaning, “Please, I can’t breathe,” while a crowd of bystanders shouted at police to let him up.
The video reignited an outpouring of rage that civil rights activists said has long simmered in Minneapolis, the largest city in the state of Minnesota, and other towns and cities across the country over persistent racial bias in the US criminal justice system and the deaths of Black people in police custody.
The charges brought by Hennepin County prosecutors came after a third night of protests in which protesters set fire to a police station, and the National Guard was deployed to help restore order in Minneapolis.
Authorities had hoped Chauvin’s arrest would allay public anger and avert continued unrest. But defying an 8 pm curfew imposed by Mayor Jacob Frey, thousands took to the streets for the fourth night. A heavy contingent of National Guard, state troopers and police moved in, some on foot and some in vehicles.
Trump said on Friday he had spoken to Floyd’s family and “expressed my sorrow”.
He called the video of the arrest “just a horrible thing to witness and to watch. It certainly looked like there was no excuse for it“.
Earlier in the day, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said a key piece of evidence in the case against Chauvin was the video clip showing Floyd lying face down in the street, with the officer kneeling on the back of Floyd’s neck – Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, according to an autopsy report.
“We have evidence, we have the citizen’s camera’s video, the horrible, horrific, terrible thing we have all seen over and over again,” Freeman said.
He added the investigation into Chauvin, who faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, was ongoing, and he anticipated also charging the three other officers, identified by the city as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.
All four were fired from the police department on Tuesday after the video surfaced of Monday’s arrest.
The 46-year-old Floyd’s relatives welcomed the news of Chauvin’s arrest as a “step on the road to justice”. But they said they hoped for tougher charges and action against the other officers involved in Floyd’s detention and death.
“We want a first-degree murder charge. And we want to see the other officers arrested,” they said in a statement.
“The pain that the Black community feels over this murder and what it reflects about the treatment of Black people in America is raw and is spilling out onto the streets across America.“