Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who pinned down George Floyd, has been taken into custody and charged with murder and manslaughter, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced on Friday.
Video of the incident showed Chauvin pushing down on Floyd’s neck with his knee while Floyd repeatedly yelled, “I can’t breathe!” As onlookers complained of the officer’s use of force, Floyd went silent and his body went limp. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly after.
The three other officers in the case are still being investigated, Freeman said, adding that the initial charges are intended to focus on the “most dangerous perpetrator.”
All the officers were previously fired, after Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s death set off protests and riots in Minneapolis throughout the week, with some protesters burning down buildings and looting stores. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz activated the National Guard on Thursday in anticipation of further unrest.
In response to the events, President Donald Trump tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The tweet was later flagged by Twitter for “glorifying violence.”
While Floyd’s death was the immediate catalyst for the protests and riots, underlying them are deeper resentments about huge racial disparities in policing and the use of force in the US.
According to the Guardian’s “The Counted” project, as of 2016 black people were more than twice as likely to be killed by police than white people, at a respective rate of 6.66 per 1 million people versus 2.9 per 1 million people.
It’s also rare for officers to be held accountable for police killings. The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project analyzed 3,238 legal actions against police officers accused of misconduct from April 2009 through December 2010. Researcher David Packman, who established the project, found that only 33 percent were convicted, with 36 percent of convicted officers going on to serve prison sentences. Both of those are about half the rate at which members of the public are convicted or incarcerated.
It’s this combination — of the excessive use of force against black Americans and the lack of accountability for police officers — that has led protesters to take up the mantle of “Black Lives Matter” since police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015, respectively, led to protests similar to those seen in Minneapolis this week.
The unresolved question now is whether this time will be different — and whether Chauvin, as the police officer charged with murder in Floyd’s death, will be held accountable.
Updated 3 pm to clarify that Floyd was pronounced dead at the hospital he was taken to.