George Floyd death: Ex-Minneapolis cop charged with murder, authorities impose curfews as protesters clash with police

Protesters smashed windows at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, set a police car on fire and struck officers with bottles. Large protests in New York, Houston and other cities were largely peaceful — even in Minneapolis, where thousands marched downtown as the city's 8 p.m. curfew ticked past and encircled a police precinct station.

FP Staff May 30, 2020 08:49:47 IST
George Floyd death: Ex-Minneapolis cop charged with murder, authorities impose curfews as protesters clash with police

The white former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck was arrested Friday and charged with murder, as authorities imposed overnight curfews to try to stem violent protests over police killings of African-Americans that have spread from Minneapolis and other US cities.

Protesters smashed windows at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, set a police car on fire and struck officers with bottles. Large protests in New York, Houston and other cities were largely peaceful, even in Minneapolis, where thousands marched downtown as the city's 8 pm curfew ticked past and encircled a police precinct station.

“Prosecute the police!” some chanted, and "Say his name: George Floyd!” There was no violence, but some protesters sprayed graffiti on nearby buildings. Elsewhere in the city, forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back crowds of protesters.

It wasn’t clear if — or how — authorities would enforce the curfew, amid sharp questions about city and state leaders mishandling the crisis. The curfew came one night after protesters burned a police precinct station, and barriers were erected around at least two police precincts before nightfall.

Cop faces more than 12 years in prison

Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He also was accused of ignoring another officer who expressed concerns about Floyd as he lay handcuffed on the ground, pleading that he could not breathe as Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck. Floyd, who was black, had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill at a store.

Chauvin, who was fired along with three other officers who were at the scene, faces more than 12 years in prison if convicted of murder.

An attorney for Floyd’s family welcomed the arrest but said he expected a more serious murder charge and wants the other officers arrested.

Prosecutor Mike Freeman said more charges were possible, but authorities “felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator.”

George Floyd death ExMinneapolis cop charged with murder authorities impose curfews as protesters clash with police

Police officers and protesters clash near CNN center, on Friday in Atlanta. AP /Mike Stewart

Meanwhile, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey declared a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am Friday and Saturday, with exceptions for emergency responders, the homeless and those seeking medical care.

“I know that whatever hope you feel today is tempered with skepticism and a righteous outrage," Frey said in a statement. “Today’s decision from the County Attorney is an essential first step on a longer road toward justice and healing our city.”

Protests spread across US

Protests also spread across the US, fuelled by outrage over Floyd’s death and years of police violence against African-Americans. Demonstrators clashed with officers in New York and blocked traffic in Houston and San Jose, California. In Atlanta, demonstrators jumped on police cruisers, set one police car ablaze and broke windows at CNN’s headquarters, where hundreds were confronting police.

On Monday, police were trying to put Floyd in a squad car when he stiffened and fell to the ground, saying he was claustrophobic, a criminal complaint said. Chauvin and Officer Tou Thoa arrived and tried several times to get the struggling Floyd into the car.

At one point, Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the car’s passenger side, and Floyd, who was handcuffed, went to the ground face down. Officer JK Kueng held Floyd’s back and Officer Thomas Lane held his legs while Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s head and neck area, the complaint said.

When Lane asked if Floyd should be rolled onto his side, Chauvin said, “No, staying put is where we got him.” Lane said he was “worried about excited delirium or whatever.”

An autopsy said the combined effects of being restrained, potential intoxicants in Floyd’s system and his underlying health issues, including heart disease, likely contributed to his death. It revealed nothing to support strangulation as the cause of death.

There were no other details about intoxicants, and toxicology results can take weeks. In the 911 call that drew police, the caller describes the man suspected of paying with counterfeit money as “awfully drunk and he’s not in control of himself.”

After Floyd apparently stopped breathing, Lane again said he wanted to roll Floyd onto his side. Kueng checked for a pulse and said he could not find one, according to the complaint.

In all, Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, including nearly three minutes after Floyd stopped moving and talking, the complaint said.

Chauvin's attorney had no comment when reached by The Associated Press.

The prosecutor highlighted the “extraordinary speed” in charging the case just four days after Floyd’s death and defended himself against questions about why it did not happen sooner. Freeman said his office needed time to gather evidence, including what he called the “horrible” video recorded by a bystander.

It was not immediately clear whether Chauvin's arrest would quiet the unrest, which escalated again Thursday night as demonstrators burned a Minneapolis police station soon after officers abandoned it.

'World is watching'

News of the arrest came moments after Minnesota governor Tim Walz acknowledged the “abject failure” of the response to the protests and called for swift justice for the officers. Walz said the state had taken over the response to the violence.

“Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire. The fire is still smoldering in our streets. The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish unheard,” Walz said. “Now generations of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world — and the world is watching.”

President Donald Trump threatened action, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which prompted a warning from Twitter for “glorifying violence.” Trump later said he was referring to shooting that had happened during the protests.

Later, the president said he'd spoken to Floyd’s family and “expressed my sorrow.”

Trump called video of the arrest “just a horrible thing to witness and to watch. It certainly looked like there was no excuse for it.”

The governor faced tough questions about the National Guard's slow response, saying city leaders were in charge. But Walz said it became apparent as the 3rd Precinct station burned Thursday night that the state had to step in.

“You will not see that tonight, there will be no lack of leadership,” Walz said Friday.

A visibly tired and frustrated Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, took responsibility for evacuating the police precinct, saying it had become too dangerous for officers.

'Pure hell'

Nearly every building in a shopping district a couple blocks from the abandoned police station had been vandalised, burned or looted. National Guard members carrying assault rifles lined up at some intersections, keeping people away from the police station. Dozens of volunteers swept up broken glass in the street.

Dean Hanson, 64, who lives a nearby subsidised housing apartment, said his building lost electricity overnight. Residents were terrified as they watched mobs loot and burn their way through the neighborhood, he said.

“I can’t believe this is happening here,” Hanson said. “It was pure hell."

Dozens of fires were also set in St Paul, where nearly 200 businesses were damaged or looted.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Floyd's family, asked to take custody of Floyd's body for an independent autopsy.

The doctor who will do the autopsy is Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner of New York City, who was hired to do an autopsy for Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after New York police placed him in a chokehold and he pleaded that he could not breathe.

State and federal authorities also are investigating Floyd's death.

The owner of a popular Latin nightclub said Floyd and Chauvin both worked as security guards there as recently as last year, but it’s not clear whether they worked together. Chauvin served as an off-duty security guard at the El Nuevo Rodeo club for nearly two decades, and Floyd had worked there more recently for about a dozen events featuring African-American music, Maya Santamaria told the AP.

Santamaria, who recently sold the venue, said Chauvin got along well with the regular Latino customers but did not like to work the African-American nights. When he did, and there was a fight, he would spray people with mace and call for police backup and half-dozen squad cars would soon show up, something she felt was “overkill.”

Governor apologizes for arrest of CNN crew

Following the arrest of a CNN crew on live television by police on Friday, an apologetic Walz promised that journalists would not be interfered with in reporting on violent protests following the death of George Floyd.

CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and two colleagues were released within an hour after network chief executive Jeff Zucker called Walz to demand answers about why they were led away and held in a police van.

“We have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell this story,” Walz said.

Jimenez and colleagues Bill Kirkos and Leonel Mendez were doing a live shot for CNN's “New Day” shortly after 5 am Central Time, describing a night of fire and anger in the wake of Floyd's death after a Minneapolis police office knelt on his neck. Fired officer Derek Chauvin was charged with murder in that case later Friday.

When first approached by officers, Jimenez, who is black, told them, “put us back where you want us. We are getting out of your way.”

After being told he was being arrested and his hands were tied behind his back, Jimenez asked why he was being arrested. He did not get an answer.

The Minnesota State Patrol said on Twitter that the journalists were among four people arrested as troopers were “clearing the streets and restoring order” following the protests. The patrol said the CNN journalists “were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.”

It’s not clear why they were confused: Jimenez was holding what appeared to be a laminated ID card before his hands were secured, and his fellow crew members told police that they were from CNN and showing the scene live on the air.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” CNN “New Day” co-anchor John Berman said.

After being released, Jimenez said that he was glad that his arrest was shown on the air.

“You don’t have to doubt my story,” he said. “It’s not filtered in any way. You saw it for your own eyes. That gave me a little bit of comfort. But it was definitely nerve-wracking.”

At a later news conference, Walz said that “I take full responsibility. There is absolutely no reason something like that should happen ... This is a very public apology to that team.”

The arrest drew widespread condemnation across the news industry. CNN competitors MSNBC, CBS News and Fox News all issued statements in support of Jimenez, along with the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.

CNN accepted Walz's apology, saying the network appreciated the sincerity of his words.

Walz's words in support of journalists have impact at a time when the news media is often under attack, said Jane E Kirtley, silha professor of Media Ethics and Law and director of the Silha Center at the University of Minnesota.

“It's really important for the governor to make that kind of statement to emphasize to everyone, especially law enforcement, that the press has an important job to do... and they need to be respected,” said Kirtley, who lives blocks away from the protests and could still smell smoke from the fires on Friday.

Later Friday, the network was again thrust into the story when hundreds of protesters confronted police outside CNN’s downtown Atlanta headquarters. Activists spray-painted a large CNN logo outside the building, breaking a window and tagging doors. One protester climbed on top of the CNN sign and waved a “Black Lives Matter” flag to cheers from the crowd.

As anchor Chris Cuomo opened his prime-time show, he told viewers the network’s headquarters had been “swarmed and defaced.” Footage of the damage outside was mixed with scenes from other protests around the country.

Correspondent Nick Valencia reported from inside the building as protesters hurled objects at the building and police.

"This is our home, Chris, you know, this is where we come to work every day, journalists who are trying to tell the truth, trying to deliver information...  And these demonstrators have decided to come here today to take our their frustration and anger it seems not just on police but on our CNN center as well,” Valencia said.

Meanwhile, there were signs Friday that cable news networks, who were spending much of their time covering the story, have become sensitive to the impact of showing witness video of Floyd's treatment by police.

News anchors on all three networks usually warned viewers of its graphic nature before showing the video.

“I must warn you that this is difficult to watch,” said CNN's Brianna Keilar, “but it is important to remember.”

With inputs from AP

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