Every time a black man is murdered in the United States by white cops there’s a cartoon that’s circulated on social media. It depicts a white officer sitting on a stool bending over to ask a little black boy what he wants to do when he grows up. The plaintive response is: “Stay alive.”
That perfectly encapsulates how black people feel in the US. Black females fear for their menfolk and black males are never totally relaxed when encountering white policemen, especially at night.
The riots that have spread across the US, ignited by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last Monday by three white and one Asian cop. The disturbing video evidence shows Floyd being forcibly handcuffed on the ground as police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The shocking video shows the dying man begging for air saying, "please, I can't breathe" and "don't kill me". Towards the end he calls out “mamma, mamma”. It is tragic. He was lifted on a stretcher, put in an ambulance and supposedly died in hospital but was probably already dead at roadside.
Floyd's death sparked protests not just across the US but internationally as well, with demonstrators calling for an end to police violence. The protests in the UK on Sunday saw thousands gathering in Trafalgar Square, central London. Protestors are generally wearing masks but not adhering to social distancing, so another outcome of this tragedy is that there will be a spike of Covid-19 cases. But this murder was the final straw after many such cases over the years.
There was no compassion from Chauvin, nor the other three officers who witnessed the excruciating brutality. Part of the pervasive anger is because up to press time, although all four were fired, only Chauvin has been charged with murder. Not even first degree though. The perception is that justice, like many times before, will not be served.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, while the other three must be concerned that they will soon be charged. Chauvin pinned him down while being arrested for allegedly using a fake $20 note in a shop. The damage done by the rioting will run to billions. Other lives have been lost during the protests, both on the police side and amongst civilians.
The Asian cop in the incident, Tou Thao, was sued in federal court in 2017 for alleged excessive force, according to online records obtained by The Associated Press. According to the lawsuit, Lamar Ferguson claimed that in 2014 Thao and his partner stopped him and beat him up while he was on his way to his girlfriend's house. The lawsuit was settled for $25,000.
When Rodney King was beaten almost to death over a minor motoring incident in 1992, riots erupted in Los Angeles and elsewhere after all the white cops responsible were somehow found not guilty by the all-white jury. Nearly three decades on, the consensus is that little or no progress has been made.
Floyd, 46, was no angel and maybe the police, knowing his violent past, were wary. But to justify what they did to him cannot be justification. It still did not mitigate a slow, painful execution. Floyd moved to Minneapolis from Houston after being released from prison for armed robbery and was known as a "gentle giant" who was trying to turn his life around.
Known to loved ones as "Big Floyd", he was father to a six-year-old daughter who lives in Houston with her mother, Roxie Washington who claimed he was a good father while they were raising Gianna together. He also left behind a girlfriend, Courtney Ross, who said she was "heartbroken" over his death. "Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate Floyd," she told the Star Tribune.
"He loved the city. He came here and stayed here for the people and the opportunities."
Floyd was a talented athlete at school who particularly excelled in football and basketball. One of his former classmates, Donnell Cooper, said he had a "quiet personality but a gentle spirit".
According to Washington, he did not finish school and began making music with a hip-hop group called the Screwed Up Click. After he struggled to find work in Houston, he left for Minneapolis.
There, he worked two jobs; driving trucks and as a security guard at Latin American restaurant Conga Latin Bistro.
A Conga customer, Jessi Zendejas, said in a Facebook post that Floyd "loved his hugs from his regulars". "He would be mad if you didn't stop to greet him because he honestly loved seeing everyone and watching everyone have fun," she said.
In a post on a GoFundMe page, Floyd's sister, Bridgett, said he would "give you the shirt off his back". His friend, Oscar Smallwood, wrote on Facebook: "The gentle giant has gained his wings, didn't get that chance to say I Love you!"
According to court documents, Floyd was charged in 2007 with armed robbery in a "home invasion". He was sentenced to five years in prison after a plea deal in 2009.
He seemed to have changed for the better. In a recent video on social media, he spoke out against gun violence, saying: "Our young generation is clearly lost".
Chauvin is seen on social media on the podium of a Donald Trump rally laughing with the president. Trump has been his typical insensitive self, inciting more anger by threatening on Twitter that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Instead of adopting a conciliatory tone, he is worsening the problem. Appealing to his loyal fanbase is all that matters to Trump with the presidential elections approaching in November.
Meanwhile the White House was briefly locked down Saturday as protesters faced off with the US Secret Service and burned American flags while chanting "No justice, no peace". Trump further inflamed the situation by saying that vicious dogs and armed security forces would have dealt with anyone who breached the fence, despite the protesters being vocal but peaceful and showing no signs of violence nor attempting to trespass.
Apart from the video evidence, the prosecution is likely to call on a former owner of the El Nuevo Rodeo bar to verify Chauvin’s racist leanings. She said both Floyd and Chauvin had been employed as security guards at the venue at the same time so there was a strong chance that Chauvin already knew his victim.
Maya Santamaria said the police officer worked off-duty outside the club and she does not know if the pair knew each other, but there would have been occasions when they were working on the same night.
She claimed Chauvin often overreacted and used pepper spray on people, saying "he had a real short fuse and he seemed afraid". She added that he seemed overly aggressive at functions involving African Americans and she had repeatedly told him not to treat them so harshly, but he always found a reason to justify his actions.
He has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin faces up to 35 years in prison over his "inherently dangerous" actions during the tragedy. Chauvin’s wife, Kellie, an Asian, has already filed for divorce.
His attorney, Tom Kelly, declined to comment about the allegations against his client, who remains jailed with his first court appearance yet to be scheduled.
A preliminary autopsy did not find evidence of "traumatic asphyxia or strangulation" and found Floyd may have died from being restrained as well as from underlying health conditions.
His family have now called in an independent forensic pathologist, Dr Michael Baden, to conduct his own autopsy, calling the official report "an illusion".
Rev Al Sharpton announced Saturday that he's delivering the eulogy at the upcoming funeral for Floyd.
Reports indicate the funeral will be held in Texas. A public visitation will be held for Floyd in Minnesota. His body will then be taken to Houston for the funeral. A date for the service has not been announced.
Sharpton's civil rights organisation, the National Action Network held a vigil for Floyd in Staten Island where the 2014 police killing victim Eric Garner died. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, community leaders and activists called for justice for Floyd who uttered, “I can’t breathe” just as Garner did six years ago when officers killed him by using what appeared to be a banned chokehold.
Recent killings of black men by cops in the US
• 2014: Eric Garner in New York
• 2014: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri
• 2014: Laquan McDonald in Chicago
• 2015: Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina
• 2015: Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland
• 2016: Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minnesota