Over the spring break, I followed the George Floyd homicide trial closely in the media. It is a very sad case and Mr. Floyd was killed for no reason. The testimony in the trial helped to explain what was going on before, during and after the famous video that is the focus of the trial.
The basic facts of the case are pretty straight forward. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, went into a Cup Foods store in Minneapolis, Minnesota to buy a pack of cigarettes. The video inside the store shows that Floyd gave a friendly hug to one of the female customers and appeared upbeat and happy. After he walked out, the young clerk went to his manager because he was concerned Floyd had paid him with a fake $20 bill. The manager told the clerk to go out to Floyd's car and ask him to come into the store to clear up the concern. The clerk did so twice and both times Floyd and the passenger who gave him the bill refused to come in. The store manager then had the police called.
After the first officers arrived and spoke to Floyd, they arrested and handcuffed him. Three additional officers arrived to assist, including Derek Chauvin. After attempting to put Floyd into the police car to transport him, he became upset and complained that he was claustrophobic. After some additional minor struggles over getting into the car, Floyd ended up facedown on the ground with part of his body further pressing against the police vehicle. Even though Floyd was handcuffed and not resisting on the ground, Chauvin placed his left knee at the back of his neck for nearly eight minutes. Chauvin also put his left hand in his pocket apparently to increase the pressure of his knee. A number of bystanders took videos of the scene and several complained openly to the police about their rough treatment of Floyd. One of the bystanders was a fire department EMT and she tried to directly intervene. One of the 911 operators could see the scene on a street camera and she was so concerned she called in to report it to Chauvin's supervisor. Floyd died shortly after arriving at the hospital that night.
There are parts of this episode that really haven't been talked about a lot. Chauvin knew Floyd and they had worked together in security at a local night club. Floyd had clashed with Chauvin over his rough treatment of guests at the club. As he was laying on the ground, Floyd called Chauvin by his first name. This familiarity may partly explain some of the actions taken by Chauvin that day. More than excessive use of force by a police officer, this may have been driven by a long standing grudge Chauvin had toward Floyd. Regardless, it was a very senseless death.
Ronald McNinch teaches at the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration.