- Nekima Levy Armstrongcivil rights attorney, activist, founder of the Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.
Parts of Minneapolis erupted into flames Wednesday night as residents again took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday. A viral video shows Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for a number of minutes as Floyd repeatedly says “I cannot breathe.” Three other officers stood by as George Floyd suffocated. They have been identified as Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. All four officers were fired on Tuesday. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has called on prosecutors to file criminal charges against Derek Chauvin. We speak with civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, founder of the Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. “What needs to happen is that charges need to be brought immediately against the four officers who killed George Floyd,” she says. “There is simply no justification for what they did or why they did it.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Minneapolis, where parts of the city erupted into flames Wednesday night as residents again took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin Monday. A viral video shows Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for a number of minutes as Floyd repeatedly says, “I cannot breathe.” Three other officers stood by as George Floyd suffocated. They’ve been identified as Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. All four officers were fired Tuesday.
On Wednesday night, the city requested help from the National Guard as a number of buildings were set ablaze. The protest followed a day-long demonstration outside the city’s 3rd Precinct police headquarters, where police fired tear gas and projectiles at the protesters. Demonstrators also rallied outside the home of former officer Derek Chauvin. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called on prosecutors to file criminal charges against Derek Chauvin Wednesday.
MAYOR JACOB FREY: I’ve wrestled with, more than anything else over the last 36 hours, one fundamental question: 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. And I cannot come up with a good answer to that question. And so I’m calling on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to act on the evidence before him. I’m calling on him to charge the arresting officer in this case. We cannot turn a blind eye. It is on us, as leaders, to see this for what it is and call it what it is. George Floyd deserves justice. His family deserves justice. The Black community deserves justice. And our city deserves justice.
AMY GOODMAN: The Star Tribune reports Derek Chauvin has been involved in multiple police shootings in his 19 years on the Minneapolis police force and was the subject of a dozen police conduct complaints. In 2008, he shot and injured a man while making a domestic assault call. In 2006, he was one of six officers who killed a man after responding to a stabbing. NBC News reports it’s unclear from the police report which officers fired their weapons.
The other police officer identified in the video of George Floyd’s murder is Tou Thao. He was sued for use of excessive force in 2017. According to the lawsuit by Lamar Ferguson, [Ferguson] was walking home with a woman who was eight months pregnant, when Thao and another officer stopped them and searched them without cause. The officers handcuffed Ferguson, and Thao threw him to the ground and punched him repeatedly, according to the lawsuit. The case settled for $25,000.
This is Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the former congressman, speaking on Wednesday. He announced both state and federal officials have opened investigations into the killing of George Floyd.
ATTORNEY GENERAL KEITH ELLISON: This investigation must proceed with a degree of objectivity. We’re not going to prejudge the facts, though the video is so clear before our eyes. Why? Because at the end of this process, we want nobody to be able to question the process. …
So what we’re dealing with is not an isolated case. We’re dealing with a systemic problem. And the investigation and the prosecution, if that happens, and the ultimate consequences, they are being handled. I am confident that they’re being handled competently. But that doesn’t end it. The discharge of the officers doesn’t end it. The criminal process that has begun doesn’t end it. The civil rights process doesn’t end it. We’ve got to have permanent, deep systemic change.
AMY GOODMAN: Minnesota’s African American Attorney General Keith Ellison also was the first Muslim elected to Congress.
We go now to Minneapolis, where we’re joined by Nekima Levy Armstrong civil rights attorney, activist, founder of the Racial Justice Network, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! Your city is in flames. Can you talk about what’s happened this week and what you’re demanding?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Yes. So, we know that George Floyd was unjustly killed by Minneapolis police officers. The video has gone viral. People are outraged. This is yet another reminder that the Minneapolis Police Department has a culture of violence, specifically when it comes to their interactions with the African American community. And so, as a result of what happened to George Floyd, we took to the streets in a two-and-a-half-mile march, from the site of where he was killed to the 3rd Precinct police station, where thousands of people stood in solidarity, standing up for justice for George Floyd.
And in the last couple of days, there have been skirmishes between law enforcement officials and protesters. I just actually left the site a little while ago, and some of the buildings were burning that were in close proximity to the 3rd Precinct police station. And although some people are surprised by this, I’m not surprised, because we’ve been warning city officials for many years that Minneapolis was going to become the next Ferguson if they did not clean up the Minneapolis Police Department and address the other racial inequities that we experience as African Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you respond to the family calling for the police officers to be brought up on murder charges, not just Chauvin, who was the one who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd as he pleaded for his life, saying “I cannot breathe”; the mayor calling for criminal charges; the attorney general, what he is calling for in Minnesota; and also President Trump saying he’s looking at the case?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, the reality is that it wasn’t just Chauvin who was responsible for the death of George Floyd. There were actually three officers that were pressing upon his body, that were holding him down so that he could not move. And there was a fourth officer who was standing guard, preventing community members from intervening in the situation. I mean, the community members did the best that they could to ask the officers to please allow Mr. George Floyd to be able to get up. And their cries and George Floyd’s cries fell on deaf ears. Just the flagrant attitudes of the officers and the nonchalant way that they responded to a man just simply asking to be able to breathe is absolutely unconscionable.
And I agree with the family, I agree with the community, that those officers should be immediately charged for the murder of George Floyd. They should have already been arrested by now. It just is — it’s a no-brainer. Any of us who had engaged in that level of conduct would already be in jail. Just because they’re officers does not mean that they should get away with this type of behavior. Firing them is a first step, but it is not enough on the road towards justice for people to feel satisfied by that outcome.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo speaking Wednesday.
POLICE CHIEF MEDARIA ARRADONDO: I certainly have said publicly, as well, that what I observed, those actions from those former four officers, in no way reflect the values and the vision and the culture that I want to change here with the Minneapolis Police Department. And so many of our men and women work each and every day to try to build those relationships of trust.
AMY GOODMAN: Arradondo was speaking with a mask on. We did not see the police officers who were involved with the killing of George Floyd with a mask. But what are you demanding of Police Chief Arradondo?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Well, we are demanding that the body camera footage be released. As I mentioned earlier, of course, we want the officers charged immediately, although that decision is not in the hands of Chief Arradondo. We had requested that those officers be fired, and he agreed that they needed to be fired. And that was an unprecedented move to have officers who are white officers be fired for killing a Black person. That has not happened. Normally, officers are allowed to remain on the force after they have killed someone. So, in addition to the charges and the body camera footage, we want to see systemic changes within the Minneapolis Police Department. We want to see a cultural shift.
We are also asking for the appointment of a special prosecutor. We simply do not trust the Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to make a fair and objective decision, because typically he sides with law enforcement officers. He has not held a single officer accountable for shooting a civilian, for killing a civilian, except in the case of Justine Damond, who was a white, affluent woman who was shot and killed by a Black Muslim Somali man. And we saw, after a period of time, where Mike Freeman actually did bring charges, and ultimately Mohamed Noor was convicted, and he is spending time in prison. Most of the officers who kill people in Minneapolis and in the state of Minnesota are white men, but not one has been charged and convicted for killing a Black person in the state of Minnesota. And we believe that that needs to change. It needs to change now. And they need to be held accountable for George Floyd’s murder.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the eyewitness — one of the eyewitnesses. We see people from the cellphone footage who are filming. He was right there. He went on CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s show last night and described what he saw.
CHRIS CUOMO: The part that makes the least sense, did any of the cops — did you hear them talking to each other about why they couldn’t just move him and get him out of the situation?
DONALD WILLIAMS: Bro, they wanted to kill that man, bro. I’m going to be 100, bro. They didn’t speak. They didn’t say nothing. The view was in his eyes, bro. The man had his knee on his chest, bro. He knew what he was doing. He shimmies on my man’s neck, bro. He knew what he was doing. It’s just like having a jiu-jitsu choke. If I’m here, and I’m shimmying, I’m shimmying, I’m shimmying, I’m shimmying. Boom! My choke’s on there. I told him it was a blood choke. He knew it was a blood choke. He looked at me when I said it. He put his head down. He did not make any more gestures, did not say any other thing. And the two other cowards that was on the other side of the car, I didn’t know nothing about. I didn’t know about it ’til I got videos in my social media and things like that. So, there was the intent to smother my man and kill my man. And I seen it. I seen it in his eyes, I seen it in his demeanor, and I seen it in their movement.
And Officer Thao didn’t — he didn’t partake in it, but he had control of what was going on on the other side of that car, for me not to see what was going on. Because if he would have known me personally, know how I am. And I’m very — I’m a controlled athlete. I’m a controlled person. You know, I have different levels to who I am. And I showed my control, and it’s out there in front of the world. I got letters, notes, for months, from people that know me from growing up in the city, that said I was the most controlled they ever seen in my life, as I’m seeing another man, that looked like me, that feels like me, that’s got the same complexion as me, lose his life to another man that had no senseless. He had no feeling. He had no remorse. He had [bleep] in him. He had no feeling. I don’t even think he had a heart at that moment. And he’s going to feel that for the rest of his life, just like I’m going to hear my man say this: “I can’t breathe. I want my mama.” And I’m coming to find out that this man who died two years on the day that his mom died. I’m a mama’s boy, bro. Like, that [bleep] hurts me deep down inside, bro. And, like, something needs to be done, or something needs to be done.
AMY GOODMAN: That was eyewitness Donald Williams describing the killing of George Floyd. Nekima Levy Armstrong, as you hear this, and the family is demanding murder charges be brought against all four officers, right now parts of Minneapolis, southern Minneapolis, are in flames. Your final thoughts on what needs to happen at this point?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: What needs to happen is that charges need to be brought immediately against the four officers who killed George Floyd. There is simply no justification for what they did or why they did it. And people have to wake up and understand that, as Black people, we do not feel safe in the city of Minneapolis, we do not feel safe in the state of Minnesota, we do not feel safe around this country, when it comes to our interactions with law enforcement. And like he said, that needs to change, and it needs to change now.
AMY GOODMAN: And the other video footage, that we have seen and that we haven’t seen, one from Dragon Wok across the street, in the store footage, the police officers claim that he was resisting arrest, but we see him coming out of the car. We see the police officers holding him. They handcuff him. They walk him across the street. And that’s when they take him down. Can you explain this?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: There is no explanation. And I think that people need to shift their focus from whether he was a resisting arrest or not. That has nothing to do with the fact that they compressed that man’s body, put the full weight of a human body on his neck and snuffed the life out of him. We have to —
AMY GOODMAN: For something like eight minutes.
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. Who can justify that? That was a modern-day lynching. No other words for that. That was a modern-day lynching. So people have to realize what they witnessed, be honest about it, and push for accountability, and not allow them to use technicalities as a way to justify what happened to George Floyd. It doesn’t matter about his past. It doesn’t matter whether he was resisting or he didn’t. It doesn’t matter what happened in the store. What matters is that those officers had a chance to ensure that George Floyd could live and not die, that he could breathe and not suffocate or have whatever kind of response to his body that happened. He should be alive today to tell his story. They took that away from him. And they should be held accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Floyd’s brother Philonise speaking on CNN Tuesday.
PHILONISE FLOYD: I loved my brother. Everybody loved my brother. Knowing my brother is to love my brother. They could have tased him. They could have maced him. Instead, they put their knee in his neck and just sat on him, and then carried on. He screamed, “Mama! Mama! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” And they didn’t care. So, I don’t — I just don’t understand what more we’ve got to go through in life, man. They didn’t have to do that to him.
AMY GOODMAN: George Floyd’s brother Philonise, speaking on CNN on Tuesday. Benjamin Crump, now the family attorney, has already filed a lawsuit against Minneapolis. We will continue to follow this story. We want to thank Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney, activist, founder of the Racial Justice Network, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, for being with us.
When we come back, we look at the life and legacy of Larry Kramer, the legendary writer, trailblazing activist in the fight against AIDS. He died on Thursday. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” by composer Joel Thompson, performed by the Sphinx, led by conductor Eugene Rogers.