by Jen Davison and the JLI Editorial Team
On May 25, 2020, a White Minneapolis Police Department officer killed George Floyd, a Black man in our Twin Cities community. The White police officer killed Mr. Floyd while Mr. Floyd was in police custody, and bystanders captured the scene of Mr. Floyd’s final moments. The disturbing video shows the White, male police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck while Mr. Floyd repeatedly asks for help because he cannot breathe and bystanders urge the officer to stop. After several minutes Mr. Floyd appears unconscious, and the police officer continues applying pressure with his knee onto Mr. Floyd’s neck until an ambulance arrives. A Minneapolis Fire Department report notes in the ambulance Mr. Floyd was “unresponsive” and “pulseless.” Despite first responder and ER staff efforts, Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center ninety minutes after his encounter with Minneapolis police.
Minnesota—like so many states across America—has a history of police violence, and its impact falls disproportionately upon Black men. During the past five years, deaths have included Isak Aden, Thomas Blevins Jr., Cordale Handy, Philando Castile, and Jamar Clark—but this list is in no way exhaustive. In the U.S. more broadly, Black men and boys have a 1-in-1,000 likelihood of being killed by police in their lifetime, contrasting with the only 39-in-100,000 likelihood for White men and boys. Here in Minneapolis, Black people make up 20 percent of the population, but Police Department data shows Black people “are more likely to be pulled over, arrested and have force used against them than [W]hite residents,” accounting “for more than 60 percent of the victims in Minneapolis police shootings from late 2009 through May 2019.”
As this week marked by the death of Mr. Floyd draws to a close, many questions have emerged. How should we address a “code of blue silence” that has not held police accountable for the city’s standards of law enforcement conduct? Is the disciplinary process for police working? Should recruitment rules change to require police to live in the communities where they work? Why do we have to rely on citizen videos rather than police reports for the unvarnished facts? Is the way we are narrating resulting protests the language of a racially-biased system resistant to change? As the officers face charges, will our Graham v. Connor legal standard requiring police use of force be “objectively reasonable” result in a just response to Mr. Floyd’s untimely death?
We join in the call for an immediate, unflinching, bias-aware exploration of the issues these questions raise, and for answers to be sought through listening to what data, history, and the voices of impacted Black scholars and community members are saying.