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Minneapolis police-linked death draws comparisons with NY’s Eric Garner case

May 27, 2020 Amy Forliti and Jeff Baenen Associated Press
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Four Minneapolis officers involved in the arrest of a Black man who died in police custody were fired Tuesday, hours after a bystander’s video showed an officer kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and stopped moving.

George Floyd’s death Monday night was under investigation by the FBI and state law enforcement authorities.

It immediately drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who died in 2014 in Staten Island, New York after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life, saying he could not breathe.

The NYPD officer in the Garner case, Daniel Pantaleo, said he was using a legal maneuver called “the seatbelt” to bring down Garner, whom police said had been resisting arrest. But the medical examiner referred to it as a chokehold in the autopsy report and said it contributed to his death.

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Gwen Carr, mother of chokehold victim Eric Garner (left) spoke outside the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn as Garner’s widow Esaw Snipes (right) listened on July 16, 2019. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

A grand jury later decided against indicting the officers involved in Garner’s death, sparking protests around the country. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn said that while Garner’s death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or the other officers involved willfully violated Garner’s civil rights.

The New York Police Department ultimately fired Officer Pantaleo, but five years later, unlike in the Minneapolis case.

In a post on his Facebook page, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey apologized Tuesday to the Black community for the officer’s treatment of the man, who was later identified as 46-year-old George Floyd, who worked security at a restaurant.

“Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” Frey posted.

Protesters and police faced each other during a rally for George Floyd in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP

Police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case at a grocery store, and that he resisted arrest.

The video starts with the man on the ground, and does not show what happened in the moments prior. The unidentified officer is kneeling on Floyd’s neck, ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” says Floyd, who has his face against the pavement.

Floyd also moans. One of the officers tells him to “relax.” The man calls for his mother and says: “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts … I can’t breathe.” As bystanders shout their concern, one officer says, “He’s talking, so he’s breathing.”

Several witnesses had gathered on a nearby sidewalk, some recording the scene on their phones. The bystanders become increasingly agitated. One man yells repeatedly. “He’s not responsive right now!” Two witnesses, including one woman who said she was a Minneapolis firefighter, yell at the officers to check the man’s pulse.

At one point, an officer says: “Don’t do drugs, guys.”

People gathered and prayed around a makeshift memorial on Tuesday near the site where a George Floyd was taken into police custody the day before. Photo: Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP

Floyd had worked security for five years at a restaurant called Conga Latin Bistro and rented a home from the restaurant owner, Jovanni Thunstrom.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the department would conduct a full internal investigation. Police did not identify the officers, but attorney Tom Kelly confirmed he is representing Derek Chauvin, the officer seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Kelly declined to comment further.

Police did not immediately respond to a request for Chauvin’s service record. News accounts show he was one of six officers who fired their weapons in the 2006 death of Wayne Reyes, whom police said pointed a sawed-off shotgun at officers after stabbing two people.

Protesters marched after a rally to call for justice for George Floyd on Tuesday. Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP

Experts on police use of force told the Associated Press that the officer clearly restrained the man too long. They noted the man was under control and no longer fighting. Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief who now testifies as an expert witness in use-of-force cases, called Floyd’s death “a combination of not being trained properly or disregarding their training.”

“He couldn’t move. He was telling them he couldn’t breathe, and they ignored him,” Scott said. “I can’t even describe it. It was difficult to watch.”

Floyd’s death came amid outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot Feb. 23 in Georgia after a white father and son pursued and killed a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging in their subdivision. More than two months passed before charges were brought.

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