Protests Erupt In Minneapolis After The Death Of A Black Man In Police Custody

May 27, 2020
Originally published on May 28, 2020 7:14 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Minneapolis, fallout from the death of a man in police custody this week continues. A video that went viral shows a police officer pressing his knee into the neck of a man. The man was facedown on the street, handcuffed. He repeatedly told the officer he could not breathe. Protesters gathered last night, and then again today to demand that officer's arrest. The mayor is now calling for the same thing. NPR's Cheryl Corley is following this. She's here now.

Hi, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Just give us the latest. Catch us up on what has happened today.

CORLEY: Well, we know that the four officers were all fired. The mayor has weighed in on this, as you mentioned, and has said on a statement on Twitter that being black in America shouldn't be a death sentence. We also know that the FBI is conducting a federal civil rights investigation. The state police are conducting one as well. And as we know, that arrest was captured on video, and we know how that's brought this whole issue of police use of force into the public consciousness. And many folks just say that this death was similar to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who also said he couldn't breathe when he was detained by police.

KELLY: Yeah. We should just lay out clearly, the man in question - the man who died, George Floyd - is black. The police officer whose knee you see on his neck is white. So that's the underlying dynamic here. The family of George Floyd - and we mentioned the mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey - they are asking for criminal charges to be filed. What do we know about that? Is it likely?

CORLEY: Well, we've seen it happen in recent years. We have seen police officers charged. There was another case in Minnesota in 2016, where an officer in the shooting death of Philando Castile - you may remember that one. That was the school cafeteria supervisor. The officer was charged, Officer Yanez. He was acquitted. In Chicago, there was a police officer who was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. That also raised a lot of protests across the country. Video was really crucial, Mary Louise, in both those cases, and it may be here, too, if any charges are filed. I talked to Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum. That's an organization that works to develop best practices for police departments. And he said he's seen that video.

CHUCK WEXLER: You really ask yourself, why does that officer continue to keep his knee on the individual's neck? I mean, it's just excruciating to watch after he says he can't breathe.

CORLEY: And I - well, I also want to point out that there are about a thousand fatal police-involved deaths every year. And few of those officers are charged, but it does happen.

KELLY: You mentioned the case of Eric Garner, and I'm also thinking of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Those deaths did lead to reforms. Just remind us what happened there, what we might be watching for here.

CORLEY: Well, in both of those cases, we saw the Department of Justice get involved. And in Ferguson in particular, there was a consent decree, and the city and the police department had to make several changes. And what happens in a lot of these cases is that the most significant policy and reform is all about the use of force. And we've seen that in several departments. And the first issue they take is they say, you know, you have to believe in the sanctity of life when we're dealing with these cases. And then the second reform is that they ask officers to intervene and that there must be a duty to intervene. So those are probably the two biggest reforms that have come out of these cases.

KELLY: Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Cheryl Corley reporting there on the case of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.