Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey is calling on the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to criminally charge the white police officer who was filmed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck before he died.
“I’ve wrestled with one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey said in a press conference Wednesday. Floyd, who was Black, died following his encounter with Minneapolis police on Monday.
“If you had done it, or I had, you’d be behind bars right now,” Frey added. “I’m calling on the Hennepin County attorney to charge the arresting officer in this case.”
“We cannot turn a blind eye,” the mayor said. “George Floyd deserves justice, his family deserves justice, the Black community deserves justice.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has yet to announce charges in the case. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement Tuesday, his office said they were “shocked and saddened” by the now-viral video, noting the FBI and Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are investigating the incident, after which they’ll make a decision on prosecution.
Asked why the mayor was making the call for the county to arrest and charge the officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, Frey said that based on what he saw in the video, “the officer who had his knee on the neck of George Floyd should be charged.”
The video showed Floyd, who was unarmed and handcuffed, being held face-down by a Minneapolis police officer, who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd eventually closed his eyes and stopped speaking. Police called for an ambulance and Floyd died shortly after arriving at a hospital, the Minneapolis Police Department said.
“How could I not speak out when an offense took place that you or I or many people in our city would have been behind bars if they did? Yet this particular officer was not,” he added. “And by the way, Black men have been put in prison before for far, far less.”
As Tuesday’s protests moved from the site of Floyd’s arrest to the local police precinct, law enforcement in riot gear arrived at the scene and launched what appeared to be tear gas into the crowd.
Asked about the heavy law enforcement response to protesters, Frey said that he “gets the need to protest,” but that “those rights must stop when others’ safety is put at risk,” noting how some police officers’ cars were busted and building glass was broken by some demonstrators. He said he trusted the judgment of the city’s police chief, whom he called “an exceptional leader in our Black community.” He also called on people to not “lump in” the “99%” of protesters who demonstrated peacefully with those who didn’t.
Frey detailed further why he chose to publicly call on the county attorney to charge the officer in this case.
“We watched for an excruciating 5 minutes as a white officer pressed his knee into the neck of an unarmed, handcuffed Black man,” Frey said. “I saw no threat, I saw nothing that would signal that this kind of force was necessary.”
“We are not talking about a split-second decision that was made incorrectly,” the mayor added. “There’s somewhere around 300 seconds in those 5 minutes. Every one of which, the officer could have turned back. Every second of which he could have removed his knee from George Floyd’s neck. Every one of which he could have listened to the community around him clearly saying he needed to stop. Every one of which you heard George Floyd himself articulating the pain he was feeling, an inability to breathe. I can’t see coming to a different answer there and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to say that.”