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Equity & Justice

Federal Officials To Investigate The Death Of A Black Man In Police Custody

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We begin this segment with the sounds of a disturbing video shared on social media this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE FLOYD: I cannot breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You having fun?

FLOYD: I cannot breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible). You a tough guy. Tough guy, huh?

KELLY: I cannot breathe. That is the voice of an African American man pleading with a police officer to take his knee off of his neck while he was being detained yesterday in Minneapolis. The incident was captured on video by a witness. Four police officers have been dismissed in connection with the death. Minnesota Public Radio reporter Tim Nelson is following this. He joins us now.

Hi, Tim.

TIM NELSON, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Hey. It's hard to watch that video, hard to listen to it just there. What do we actually know about how this happened?

NELSON: Well, you know, police were called to a report of a forgery in south Minneapolis. This is near a neighborhood convenience store about 8 o'clock last night. Officers were told a suspect was nearby, that he was possibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Police got there and found a man they believed to be a suspect nearby in a car. They said they got him out of the vehicle. And a struggle started. Very quickly, he was subdued and handcuffed and apparently restrained, laying face down on the street nearby - it looks like just outside the back door of a police SUV. Now, we don't actually know very much about him, although his family has identified him as George Floyd. He's thought to be about in his 40s. But we're still awaiting official confirmation.

KELLY: OK. So a lot we don't know, but we do have this video, so we have at least one vantage point from bystanders. What else does that show us?

NELSON: That's actually several videos. The Facebook video shows an officer, as you said, with his knee on the back of Floyd's neck. There's some other officers in the area that you see briefly. Another passerby heard cries for help from his car as he was driving by and also shot video. That shows multiple officers involved right on top of this man beside the squad. Now, in the Facebook video, bystanders are shouting at police, saying that the man wasn't moving, and he wasn't resisting. They're pleading for officers to release him. And literally, as you watch, he seems to lose consciousness on the street. That goes on for a few minutes. An ambulance arrives. And the video shows the man being loaded limp onto a stretcher, put in an ambulance and taken away. Authorities said he died later at a downtown Minneapolis hospital.

KELLY: What has the reaction been there in Minneapolis today?

NELSON: Well, a strong one. Mayor Jacob Frey called the incident awful and traumatic. Here's what he had to say about the officer seen in the Facebook video with his knee on Floyd's neck this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACOB FREY: This officer failed in the most basic human sense. And it serves as a clear reminder of just how far we have to go.

NELSON: Now, the mayor also just tweeted in the last hour that four responding MPD officers involved in the death of George Floyd have been terminated. It's a very quick process, faster than we've ever seen here, this firing. Also, attorney Ben Crump, a well-known civil rights attorney, has been retained by the family. You may know him from the Trayvon Martin case, Michael Brown and, most recently, Ahmaud Arbery. Minneapolis police chief has actually asked the FBI to investigate. He says after talking with folks in the community, he believes there may be some civil rights violations here.

And, you know, this is the latest in a series of controversial deaths involving Minneapolis police, including Jamar Clark. And you may remember Justine Ruszczyk. She was the unarmed woman who called 911 to report an assault and then was shot to death in the alley by responding officers back in 2017. People are remembering that. And, of course, as we heard in that little clip of tape, there are comparisons to Eric Garner.

KELLY: To Eric Garner...

NELSON: ...The man in New York City.

KELLY: ...Who, of course, famously and sadly also said, I cannot breathe.

Tim Nelson. He's a reporter with Minnesota Public Radio. Thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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