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Why George Floyd’s death feels like ‘a knee on the neck of black America’

It has been a painful two days in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd in police custody. The incident, captured on video, raises questions about the conduct of the specific police officers involved, as well as the department’s broader relationship with citizens of color. Yamiche Alcindor reports, and Amna Nawaz talks to Andrea Jenkins, vice president of the Minneapolis city council.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was a painful night in Minneapolis and a day of difficult questions about the death of George Floyd, his treatment by the police, and the department's relationship with citizens of color.

    All of this captured tragically on video, when Floyd told the police, "I can't breathe."

    Amna Nawaz explores those questions.

    But, first, Yamiche Alcindor has this report.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In Minneapolis, outrage over the death of George Floyd.

  • Protesters:

    Prosecute the police!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yesterday, hundreds gathered to protest his death in police custody on Monday. By nighttime, police used tear gas on crowds, as they were demanding justice in the case.

    Some of the unrest took place at this intersection, where only a day earlier the struggle between Floyd and the officers unfolded.

    A video captured by a bystander shows Floyd being pinned to the ground, as a white police officer kneels on his neck.

  • George Floyd:

    I can't breathe. Please. A knee in my neck.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Gasping for air, he pleaded, "I can't breathe," until he appears to lose consciousness.

    The initial police report of the incident did not detail what the cell phone video, which has now gone viral, laid bare. Instead, police said they were responding to a call of forgery and that Floyd physically resisted arrest.

    But a surveillance video obtained by The Washington Post shows the moments leading up to the arrest. In it, Floyd seems to comply. State officials and the FBI are investigating the case. All the four officers at the scene were quickly fired late Tuesday.

    Today, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he would be requesting that the county attorney file charges against the officer who knelt on Floyd.

  • Mayor Jacob Frey:

    Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail? If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Floyd's family has called for the four officers to be charged with murder.

  • Shareeduh Tated:

    Essentially, they executed him in front of us, and we watched his life leaving his body.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Floyd's brother Rodney said the late 46-year-old, who was a bouncer at a local restaurant, was deeply loved.

  • Rodney Floyd:

    A great people person. Everyone loves him, if you got a chance to know him. He gives out plenty of good energy, good vibes. He's happy. He's smiling all the time.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And Floyd's cousin, Shareeduh Tate, said the officers had failed to see the humanity in him.

  • Shareeduh Tate:

    He held no value to them whatsoever. They didn't care one way or another if he lived or died. And it was clear, because, as he was sitting there begging, begging repeatedly for somebody to hear him say, "I cannot breathe," they just chose to turn and look the other way.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said the video is damning.

  • Benjamin Crump:

    So, I think any jury looking at this evidence, this overwhelming evidence, has to say, at some point, when they ignore his pleas, that intent informs.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    With echoes of the 2014 Eric Garner case in New York, Floyd's death has drawn condemnation across the country.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's get a view now from a leading voice in the community.

    City Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins is the vice president of the council. She represents the area that includes that corner where the encounter between Floyd and the police occurred. She joins us now.

    Councilwoman Jenkins, welcome to the "NewsHour." And thank you for being with us.

    I want to begin with what you just heard from Mayor Frey. He was unequivocal early today. He said, that officer needs to be charged. Do you agree with him?

  • Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins:

    Oh, Amna, yes, I absolutely agree with Mayor Frey and his call for charges to be filed against the officer involved.

    And I am calling for all of the officers involved to be investigated. You know, as the mayor said, if you or I had stood by in the commission of a crime, then we would be charged as accomplices.

    And so it was clear to me what we witnessed in that video was a crime. And it was not only a crime against George Floyd, although he suffered the most deep injustice, but, in my mind, it felt like it was a symbol for a knee on the neck of black America.

    The president has loosened the restrictions on the EPA, which we know is creating an issue in black and brown communities all around this country, inhibiting our ability to breathe. The pandemic is impacting black and brown communities disproportionately in regards to access to health care and testing, in regards to employment, in regards to who is dying from this pandemic.

    Sixty percent of all the deaths have been black and brown people. And so it seems like that was a symbol for having — America having its knee on the necks of black and brown people in this country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Councilwoman, let me ask you what you're hearing from your constituents.

    You were at the protest last night. We should mention there are protests again tonight in Minneapolis. If there are no charges in the days or weeks ahead, what do you think the reaction will be?

  • Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins:

    Well, certainly, there were protests last night.

    And there have been protests all day today, and I have been to two of them already. I believe that we will not get to a place of beginning to think about healing until we have charges against those officers.

    That is the only — that's what I'm hearing from my constituents, as you — your question asks. And that is the sentiment that myself and many of my colleagues, including Mayor Frey, have been calling for. And I believe that we will continue to see unrest, though I am calling for all of my beloved community members to be safe, to understand that we are still in the midst of a pandemic.

    Nothing has changed. There is no vaccine. There is no treatment. And so gathering in groups of 8,000 and 10,000 people, it's just creating more unnecessary harm to our community members than we have to.

    I understand that people are upset, rightfully so. I support our right to democratic, peaceful protests. However, this is a situation unlike — it's unprecedented, as the common phrase has been used to refer to this, and we can't have the same kinds of protesting that we have had in past years.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Councilwoman, let me ask you.

    I think that we just had a tweet from the president saying the FBI and the Department of Justice are now investigating George Floyd's death. It's worth pointing out, too, there have been policy changes in Minneapolis in the past.

    The reason those other officers were fired was because they didn't intervene when they saw their colleague using excessive force. We only have a minute left, and I apologize, but what else do you think needs to happen now?

  • Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins:

    So, I'm glad to hear the president has called on the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate this.

    The police chief here has called on the FBI to get involved. This is about human rights, the violation of human rights. And so what I think needs to be done is, we need a — to declare an emergency on the other virus that is killing black America, and that is racism.

    And so I hope that the president will condemn the racism that is inherent in our institutions and our systems, particularly our law enforcement and law enforcement communities, and call for a cease of killing of black unarmed people in the United States of America.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins, vice president of the Minneapolis City Council, with us tonight.

    Thank you so much for your time, Councilwoman.

  • Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins:

    Thank you, Amna. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

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