Former Minneapolis officer is charged with murder

Protesters and police face each other in New York, May 28, 2020.
Protesters and police face each other in New York, May 28, 2020.

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The former police officer who was seen on video using his knee to pin down George Floyd, a black man who later died, has been arrested and charged with murder, authorities announced Friday, after days of escalating protests and growing unrest.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, who is white, was arrested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on Friday, authorities said. He was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, announced Friday afternoon.

An investigation into the other three officers who were present at the scene on Monday was ongoing.

News of Chauvin’s arrest came shortly after Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota called for order in the streets of Minneapolis “so we can restore justice,” after a night of chaos in which protesters set fire to a police station, the National Guard was deployed and President Donald Trump threatened violence against protesters.

Walz, a Democrat, expressed solidarity with the protesters, but said he wanted to lift up the voices of “those who are expressing rage and danger and those who are demanding justice” and “not those who throw firebombs.”

“I refuse to have it take away the attention from the stain that we need to be working on,” he said. “These are things that have been brewing in this country for 400 years.”

Floyd, 46, died after pleading “I can’t breathe” while a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck, in an encounter that was captured on video. His death set off days of protests and scattered looting in Minneapolis, as well as a string of protests across the country as demonstrators also spoke out against other recent killings of black men and women.

Adding fuel to the tensions, Trump, who previously called the video of Floyd’s death “shocking,” weighed in with a tweet calling the protesters “thugs” and said that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The comments prompted Twitter to attach a warning to the tweet, saying that it violated the company’s rules about “glorifying violence.”

The spectacle of a police station in flames and a president appearing to threaten violence against those protesting the death of a black man in police custody — set against the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that has kept many residents from engaging with one another directly for months — added to the anxiety of a nation already plagued by health and economic crises.

The protests — some peaceful, some marked by violence — have spread across the country, from Denver and Phoenix to Columbus, Ohio, where crowds surged the steps of the State Capitol and broke windows. In Minneapolis, smoke smoldered over the city’s horizon Friday morning, and residents were out sweeping and cleaning the streets.

“The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish, unheard,” Walz said. But, he added, “We have to restore order.”

The mayor says the importance of life outweighs the symbolism of a police building.

The anger and the rage in Minneapolis have been building for days.

After prosecutors announced Thursday that they had not decided whether to charge the police officer who was caught on video with his knee pressed against the neck of Floyd as the man begged for air, that rage turned to chaos.

Outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct station house, the crowds surged, with some people tossing fireworks and other items at officers, while the police fired projectiles back.

The standoff soon spiraled out of control, with officers retreating from the police station in vehicles just after 10 p.m. Thursday local time as protesters stormed the building — smashing equipment, lighting fires and setting off fireworks, according to videos posted from the scene.

“We’re starting fires in here, so be careful,” one man could be heard shouting as sprinklers doused protesters who had burst inside.

Flames rose from the front of the building as hundreds of protesters looked on, and soon smoke was billowing from the roof.

Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis said at a news conference Friday morning that he had made the call for officers to flee the 3rd Precinct, saying, “The symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the importance of life.”

Frey, a Democrat, said he understood the anger of the city’s residents but pleaded with people to stop destroying property and looting stores.

“It’s not just enough to do the right thing yourself,” he said. “We need to be making sure that all of us are held accountable.”

Frey also gave a fiery retort to Trump’s tweets during a news conference Friday morning.

“Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions,” he said. “Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis.”

“Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis,” he added.

As the unrest escalated, Walz activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in the Twin Cities after he saw the level of destruction from Wednesday’s protest — buildings on fire, clashes with police and looted stores. Five hundred members of the Minnesota National Guard were sent to Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“Unfortunately, some individuals have engaged in unlawful and dangerous activity, including arson, rioting, looting, and damaging public and private property,” Walz wrote in his proclamation. “These activities threaten the safety of lawful demonstrators and other Minnesotans, and both first responders and demonstrators have already been injured.”

Trump administration speaks with multiple voices on protests.

Trump’s aggressive tweets about riots in Minneapolis on Friday led Twitter to determine he had violated the platform’s rules against glorifying violence. Messages from others in his administration were starkly different.

“Our country allows for peaceful protests, but there is no reason for violence,” Melania Trump, the first lady, wrote on Twitter. “I’ve seen our citizens unify & take care of one another through COVID19 & we can’t stop now. My deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd. As a nation, let’s focus on peace, prayers & healing.”

Officials in the Trump administration often take a freelance approach to issuing their own statements, and with Melania Trump, it has been a point of pride that her messages can show a starkly different tone from her husband’s. But in the midst of a deadly pandemic and riots around the country, the result Friday was a lack of a unified message.

While Donald Trump disparaged protesters in Minnesota as “thugs,” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, said in a tweet that she understood why people in Minneapolis were in pain and why they were calling for the arrest of the police officer who had placed his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“People in Minneapolis are hurting for a reason,” she wrote. “Justice is how we heal. My heart goes out to George Floyd’s family and all Americans who are hurting.”

On Friday, the Trump campaign and Trump’s social media adviser, Dan Scavino, stayed focused on what they said were issues of censorship against conservatives on social media. Scavino, the White House deputy director of communications, used his official account to lob an expletive at the company.

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