The Minneapolis police department’s failure to arrest the officers responsible threatens our most basic sense of justice
Ben Crump and Jasmine Rand
Get off of his neck.” “Please! Please!” “I can’t breathe.” Police in America have far too many non-lethal ways to reliably kill black men without facing criminal charges. The weaponization of racism does not require a gun or a bullet. In this case, a police officer’s knee was the weapon used to kill George Floyd. The observing officers’ indifference was also a weapon used to kill Floyd, and the Minneapolis police department’s failure to arrest the officers responsible is a weapon threatening to kill our most basic sense of justice.
Most law enforcement agencies classify weapons and use of physical force into two broad categories: “lethal” and “non-lethal”. Officers regularly convert “non-lethal” weapons and physical force into deadly force and hide behind the agency’s classification system to avoid criminal charges.
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In reality, any weapon or any use of physical force can cause death when misused. Police batons kill people. Tasers kill people. Chokeholds kill people. Kneeling on someone’s neck for eight minutes kills people. You don’t need to attend the police academy to know that if you obstruct someone’s airway they will eventually stop breathing, and if you cannot breathe you will die.
Mike Freeman, the district attorney, is required by the laws of the state of Minnesota to charge the police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck with first-degree murder. Similarly, the officers
who watched their fellow officer do it, failed to intervene and stopped other citizens from trying to save Floyd’s life should also be charged.
The officers served as judge, jury and executioners of George Floyd when they killed him in the street; and they should face life sentences for First-Degree Murder in a court of law. A first-degree murder charge in Minnesota requires that a person acts to “cause the death of a human being with premeditation and with intent to effect the death of the person”.
The video evidence clearly shows that the officers acted with the intent to kill and with premeditation. Floyd told the officers he could not breathe 12 times, including within the first few seconds of the video. Floyd said: “I’m about to die … they’re gonna kill me,” and called out for his mother. He lost consciousness, stopped breathing and his body went limp after four minutes. Forty seconds later witnesses told officers that Floyd was unresponsive. At least 16 times they asked the officers to take his pulse.
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The officers even prevented a woman who identified herself as an EMT from trying to save his life. Two minutes and 20 seconds after Floyd lost consciousness, witnesses began to say: “They just killed him.” The officers all knew that Floyd was unconscious, was not breathing, that his body was limp, but an officer kept his knee pressed on his windpipe, making sure he did not breathe for another four minutes, despite witnesses’ relentless insistence that he was dying. If the witnesses knew he was dying, the officers knew he was dying. The officers knew that Floyd needed oxygen to live, but they never attempted CPR, never took his pulse and never tried to save his life.
Racism is the eye staring down the barrel of our justice system and threatening to pull the trigger. Recall that only after a mass protest movement did the officer who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold face any consequences.
Freeman cannot allow the Minneapolis police officers who killed Floyd to elude criminal charges under the weak, shameful excuse that the level of force used was “non-lethal”, or that the officers didn’t know that Floyd would die without oxygen. That argument is as dishonest as saying they didn’t know what happens to a fish out of water. We can all visualize that image: the fish out of water, its mouth open and gasping for air; and we all know the fish is going to die, just like the officers knew that Floyd was going to die.
- Ben Crump is a civil rights attorney and founder of the national law firm Ben Crump Law. Crump is representing the Floyd family
- Jasmine Rand, a civil rights attorney who has worked on numerous police brutality cases, is also representing the Floyd family