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‘Not the America that we want to live in,’ says St. Paul mayor of George Floyd’s death

An African American man in Minneapolis died Monday night after a police officer kneeled on his neck while apprehending him. Echoing the 2014 Eric Garner case, George Floyd told the officer, “I can’t breathe.” The incident, captured on video, prompted outrage in the Twin Cities and beyond -- and led to the dismissal of four police officers involved. Amna Nawaz talks to St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is a protest in Minneapolis tonight following the death of an African American man. He died after a police officer kneeled on his neck while apprehending him last night.

    Echoing the Eric Garner case from Staten Island, the man told the officer, "I can't breathe."

    The consequences have been building throughout the day.

    Amna Nawaz has a look at how the incident, captured on video, led to outrage in the Twin Cities area and wider.

  • And a warning:

    This video has footage that may be hard for some people to watch.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The video shows George Floyd on the street, hands cuffed behind his back, pinned down by a police officer's knee on his neck.

    Floyd repeatedly says, "I can't breathe."

  • George Floyd:

    Please. Please, I can't breathe.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Witnesses on the sidewalk are heard begging one officer to listen to Floyd.

  • Man:

    All right, you got him down, man. Let him breathe at least, man.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Then imploring the second officer to intervene.

  • Man:

    So you call what he's doing OK?

  • Man:

    Get back in the street!

  • Man:

    You call what he's doing OK?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Minutes into the video, one bystander alerts the police that Floyd is no longer moving.

  • Man:

    Bro, he's not (EXPLETIVE DELETED) moving!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Floyd was taken by ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center and pronounced dead.

    Minneapolis police said in a statement Monday night they were responding to a report of a forgery in progress, and that Floyd physically resisted officers.

  • Mayor Jacob Frey:

    He should not have died.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This morning, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey addressed reporters after watching the video.

  • Mayor Jacob Frey:

    For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man, for five minutes.

    When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    By this afternoon, Mayor Frey announced four Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd's death had been fired.

    Some reaction to all of this from one of the area's leaders.

    Melvin Carter is the mayor of St. Paul, part of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. And he joins us now.

    Mayor Carter, thank you so much for being with us.

    That video is so hard for so many people to watch. Your heart just goes out to the friends and family of George Floyd.

    When you first saw that video — you lead a community right next door — what was your reaction?

  • Mayor Melvin Carter:

    Exactly that.

    And thanks for having me on.

    We have a 10-minute video, just as Mayor Frey just said, of a man, George Floyd, having his neck pressed in from behind. He's defenseless. He's helpless. He's handcuffed the whole time.

    There really can't be any distractions on this, as we traditionally see folks try to blame the victim or shame the victim. And there can't be any excuses. There's no argument that there was a heat of the moment. There's no weapon. There's no sustained aggression. There's no argument the officer could have been acting in self-defense or feared for his life.

    We just have a man, George Floyd, who should be still alive today.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mayor Carter, it's sad to say the Twin Cities have been here before.

    You think back to the 2015 police shooting of Jamar Clark, the 2016 police shooting of Philando Castile. You cannot hear George Floyd say the words "I can't breathe" and not think back to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, after a New York City police officer put him in a choke hold.

    Each time, there are protests, there's calls for justice. Months, sometimes years go by. What do you make of the reaction you have seen so far next door in Minneapolis to what happened?

  • Mayor Melvin Carter:

    I think you're exactly right.

    I mean, you can't pretend this is just a one-time stand-alone thing. I will tell you what. In the Eric Garner video and so many of the videos that we have seen, and certainly in the one that we saw today, one of the most disturbing things to me is the other officers, the other officers who stand around.

    If it's just one officer acting by himself, then somebody might be able to make the argument that he's a bad apple or that he's a rogue officer or something like that. Everyone knows the basic job of a police officer is to help when someone is being hurt.

    And so for three officers to stand there, and not deem it in their job to intervene and stop this from happening right now to George Floyd, speaks to an undeniable culture, a culture of violence, a culture of abuse that has somehow been normalized, that's been accepted, and that has to end right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we mentioned, four police officers from Minneapolis have already been fired.

    Why do you think Mayor Frey reacted so swiftly?

  • Mayor Melvin Carter:

    I will tell you, Mayor Frey is a good friend. He and I worked together closely on a number of things. I appreciated him making a very strong statement this morning, saying that this was unacceptable. It's unacceptable for being black in America to be a life sentence.

    And I appreciate seeing them take strong action and fire these officers. I assume Mayor Frey watches this video, like so many of us do, and just can't live with it, can't sustain all of this.

    I tell you, I appreciate him giving voice to that. And I know it's a difficult situation for him, because part of his job right now, too, is to make sure he doesn't do or say anything that will jeopardize the city of Minneapolis or the Minneapolis Police Department's ability to hold these officers fully accountable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned the police department.

    I should point out, their first statement, some parts of it were contradicted when the video surfaced and started becoming much more widely seen. There was no mention in the police statement of a knee on the neck or of George Floyd losing consciousness. It was classified as a medical incident.

    Those kinds of statements and stories can lead people to think the police are hiding something or they're not telling the full story. It leads to mistrust in the same communities they are sworn to protect.

    So, as an elected official, how do you fix that?

  • Mayor Melvin Carter:

    You're so right. And it's such a big problem.

    Philando Castile was my children's lunch guy. And that incident didn't happen in St. Paul, and it wasn't the St. Paul Police Department. This morning, that video didn't happen in St. Paul, and it wasn't the St. Paul Police Department.

    And we have been working for years. We have got a fantastic police chief. We have got a great police department. My father is a retired St. Paul police officer. And we have worked for years to build the type of trust, to build the credibility to engage community and community leaders.

    And when this happens, whether it's in Minneapolis or anywhere around the country, it sets us back years on that work that we have done to build trust. It puts every single officer in our country in a bad situation. And that's one of the most tragic things about this.

    We know that the process of building trust is never complete. It's never done. And so that just means we have to continue to double down on that work. I have spoken to my police chief this morning. He's strongly — he always talks about the bank of trust, and the need to make deposits in that bank of trust before you ever have to make a withdraw.

    And that's what we're focused on in St. Paul.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mayor Carter, as we sit here, there are protests going on, obviously, in Minneapolis, people calling for justice.

    And as we sit here, there is the tragic American truth that, nationwide, U.S. police disproportionately kill black people in America.

    So, when we're looking forward about what needs to happen next, tell me, as an elected official, what would you like to see happen now, specifically, so there's not just justice for Mr. Floyd's family, but we can make sure this doesn't keep happening?

  • Mayor Melvin Carter:

    I think you're absolutely right.

    And, unfortunately, we have seen historically so many times that no one's held accountable for things like this. I can only pray that we have a legal system here in Minnesota, here in America that's capable for holding these officers accountable for taking George Floyd's life in the way that they did.

    I don't think that we should send this to a grand jury. I'm looking to our Hennepin County attorney, Mike Freeman, to make a charging decision, and to make it soon, so that we can hold these officers accountable.

    If we can't, or if we won't hold these officers accountable, then it'll just be another painful reminder in a mountain of evidence that tells our young — in particular, our young African-American men that their lives are not valued in the same way as other people's lives are.

    That has to be unacceptable. I will tell you, I'm speaking up loud and clear about this every chance I can get to everyone who I can, but that's not surprising. I'm a young African-American man.

    We need our — everyone speaking up on this. We need our senior citizens. We need our white women. We need every member of our community who values life, who values humanity, who can look at a video like that and say, look, George Floyd, there's no reason he shouldn't be going home to his family today.

    We need to all be speaking up, so all of our families hear this, all of our co-workers here this, all of our elected officials, our judges, our police officers, that we are all speaking up and saying, that's not the America that we want to live in.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota, joining us tonight.

    Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Mayor.

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