Another day in the United States, another unarmed black man dead following unwarranted, insupportable, outrageous police violence. When will it end?
In Minneapolis on a Monday evening, a white officer bore down with his knee on the neck of a handcuffed black man who lay sprawled on the street, rasping, “I cannot breathe” and “Don’t kill me.” The man died a short time after.
The suspect, George Floyd, was in his 40s. He was arrested when officers responded to what they called a suspected “forgery in progress.” They said the man appeared to be intoxicated and that he resisted arrest, though no evidence has been presented for either assertion.
There is plain evidence of what came next, however, from a video recorded by someone in a group of witnesses who stood a few feet away. In it, the white officer appears impassive, almost bored, as the suspect gasps for breath. He is unmoved as witnesses curse and plead with him to get off the suspect’s neck, as they warn that the man’s nose is bleeding, that he can’t breathe, that he isn’t resisting. Nor does the officer relent when an ambulance medic arrives and checks the man’s neck for a pulse.
When, finally, the officer lifts his knee, the man appears to have lost consciousness as he is dragged onto a stretcher.
On Tuesday, that officer and three others were fired. Now the FBI is investigating the incident. Now the outrage and condemnation are erupting in social media. It is all painfully familiar.
Police killed 1,099 people last year in the United States, according to Mapping Police Violence. Black Americans represented 24 percent of those who died, nearly twice their proportion of the population.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) was blunt. “Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” he said. “This officer failed in the most basic, human sense. What I keep coming back to is this: This man should not have died.”
In a jarringly anodyne statement Tuesday, as if describing a highway pileup, the Minneapolis police said that officers at the scene “noted (the suspect) appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
Incredibly, the statement made no mention of the fact that the “medical distress” occurred in the course of having the weight of an officer’s body bear down on the man’s neck. The title of the statement is almost risible: “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.”
Six short years ago, Americans watched, horrified, as Eric Garner, his neck in a police officer’s chokehold, pleaded again and again, “I can’t breathe” on a sidewalk on Staten Island. Mr. Garner died. They watched macabre videos showing the deaths of Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice and other black Americans, all shot to death by police.
Perhaps the suspect in Minneapolis was intoxicated. Perhaps he did resist arrest. The officers at the scene activated their body cams; that footage should be released immediately. Even if it confirms the police account, it will do nothing to justify what occurred next. No police protocols recommend kneeling on a human being’s neck until he passes out. That is a protocol for homicide, not law enforcement.