‘I can’t breathe’: Black US man dies after officer pins him down

A Black man who yelled “I cannot breathe” as a White Minneapolis police officer pinned him down with his knee in the US state of Minnesota died late on Monday, police confirmed, drawing outrage from community members and leaders.

Video of the incident shows a white police officer pinning down George Floyd, believed to be in his 40s, to the pavement with his knee on the man’s neck for several minutes. Floyd was identified by prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who said he had been retained by the Floyd family.

Floyd can be heard saying in the video: “Please, please, I cannot breathe.”

The officer tells Floyd to “relax”.

Floyd responds: “I can’t breathe. Please, the knee in my neck.”

The officer continues to hold down Floyd with his knee for several minutes, with Floyd pleading and asking for water.

“My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe,” Floyd cries out, while moaning and trying to cough.

Floyd eventually appears motionless under the officer’s knee.

Those who were watching the incident unfold can be heard begging police to move off Floyd.

“He’s not f****** moving,” an onlooker can be heard saying. “Get off of his f****** neck.”

It is unclear what happened before and after the video was taken.

FBI to investigate

In a statement on Tuesday, the Minneapolis Police Department said its officers were responding to a “report of a forgery in progress”.

“After [the suspect] got out [of his car], he physically resisted officers,” the statement said. “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and note he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

He was then transported to a nearby medical centre where he died a short time later, the department said.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensive (BCA) said it was “investigating the circumstances surrounding an incident”.

It added that it was sharing information with the FBI, which “is conducting a separate federal civil rights investigation at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said on Tuesday that he requested the FBI involvement after receiving additional information “from a community source”. He did not elabortate. 

The police officers involved in the incident were wearing body cameras, the Minneapolis police department said. The footage has not been made publicly available. Arradondo said the officers involved have been “relieved of duty status”, but are still being paid.

‘Trauma on trauma’

The incident has drawn outrage in the city and online, with many drawing comparisons to Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who died in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by New York City police and pleading: “I can’t breathe.” That incident sparked nationwide protests. 

“We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him to the police car and get off his neck,” Crump, the Floyd’s lawyer, 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,” he added. “How many ‘while Black’ deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends?”

Nekima Levy Armstrong, a local lawyer and prominent activist, wrote on Facebook that this “is trauma on trauma on trauma”.

“We can’t escape police violence even in a global pandemic,” she added.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called the incident “wrong on every level”.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” he said in a Facebook post.

“This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” he added. All I keep coming back to is this: this man should not have died … To our Black community, to the family: I’m so sorry.”

A protest is scheduled in Minneapolis on Tuesday, with organisers urging participants to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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