- Nekima Levy Armstrongcivil rights attorney, activist, founder of the Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.
Two autopsies have agreed George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police was a homicide. “I don’t think that most of us are surprised that the county medical examiner tried to find a reason related to why George Floyd died that distanced it from law enforcement’s role,” says Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney, activist, founder of the Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. She also discusses the local history of police accountability: “What this does is illustrates the corruption that exists within Hennepin County, where you have law enforcement working collaboratively with the County Medical Examiner’s Office, working collaboratively with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, and ultimately resulting in people not being able to get justice when they are killed by police. This happens time and time again.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We end today’s show in Minneapolis, where protesters continue to take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, African American man killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin last week, when Chauvin pinned him to the ground, pressing his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly said “I can’t breathe.” A number of those minutes, he was lifeless. The viral video of the murder sparked a nationwide uprising against police.
Two separate autopsies Monday confirmed Floyd’s death was a homicide. Derek Chauvin was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers who were fired along with Chauvin have not been charged, even as new video appears to show two of them also kneeling on George Floyd’s body as he laid on the pavement.
George Floyd’s memorial service is planned for Thursday in Minneapolis. His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Houston. On Monday, George Floyd’s younger brother Terrence called for peace from the site of his brother’s murder.
TERRENCE FLOYD: If I’m not over here wilding out, if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are y’all doing? What are y’all doing? Y’all are doing nothing! Because that’s not going to bring my brother back at all. I know he would not want y’all to be doing this.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes one day after Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced Attorney General Keith Ellison will take the lead in the investigation and any prosecutions related to George Floyd’s killing. George Floyd’s family is calling for the other three officers involved in the killing to be charged.
For more, 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.
If you can talk, Nekima Levy Armstrong — and thanks so much for joining us once again — about the latest developments, the announcement of the second independent autopsy, which says that George Floyd died by asphyxiation, but also confirming what the coroner said, this was a homicide? And then talk about Keith Ellison, the now-attorney general, first Muslim member of Congress, taking over the prosecution and what’s happening there.
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: I don’t think that most of us are surprised that the county medical examiner tried to find a reason related to why George Floyd died that distanced it from law enforcement’s role. So, for example, if you think back to the night that George Floyd died, the police issued a press release, that we know was a bogus press release, claiming that George Floyd died as a result of a medical incident. And so, the county medical examiner’s report is consistent with this notion that an underlying medical condition caused his death, whereas the autopsy that was conducted independently by the family of George Floyd shows that he died as a result of asphyxiation related to the officer holding his knee on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes and not allowing him the opportunity to breathe.
I think what this does is illustrates the corruption that exists within Hennepin County, where you have law enforcement working collaboratively with the County Medical Examiner’s Office, working collaboratively with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, and ultimately resulting in people not being able to get justice when they are killed by police. This happens time and time again. Many of these cases are ruled as a homicide, but that has not resulted in justice for victims of police violence, victims of police shootings and, in this case, victims of asphyxiation as a result of police conduct.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And —
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Now, recently, it was — go ahead.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, no, go ahead. Go ahead.
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Recently, it was announced that Congressman — former Congressman Keith Ellison, now Minnesota attorney general, is going to take over the case. And, I mean, for many of us, we are glad that the case will no longer be in the hands of Mike Freeman. However, when Keith Ellison said that he would be taking over the case, he claimed that he would be working collaboratively with Mike Freeman’s office. So that has raised our antenna, as activists as well as attorneys who care about social justice, because we know that Mike Freeman has routinely failed to hold police officers accountable who kill civilians. And so, we’re saying Mike Freeman should have no role in this case whatsoever.
Even if you look at the original charging decision, he has charged Chauvin, who is the main cop who has been arrested and the one seen in the video with his knee on George Floyd’s neck — he’s charged him with third-degree murder, which is similar to someone randomly shooting into a crowd, not having a specific person that they’re targeting, and that person dying. Minnesota case law has shown that you can’t sustain a third-degree murder conviction in a situation like the one at hand, where George Floyd is the victim, he was the intended target, and he died as a result of the police officers’ conduct. So, even the charging decision by the Hennepin County attorney is really setting this case up to be dismissed for lack of probable cause or, ultimately, for the case to result in officer Chauvin, or former officer Chauvin, being exonerated, which we find to be unacceptable.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nekima Levy Armstrong, the most recent video that shows that not only the one officer in the previous video, Chauvin, was actually — he had his knee on the victim’s neck, but that two other officers also had their knees down on his chest and his torso. Do you think that’s sufficient right there to charge them with having been involved in the killing?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. It’s a no-brainer. I mean, we’ve had medical professionals from around the country weighing in on social media, raising concerns about what happened and calling what occurred to George Floyd murder. This is why we have been demanding that all four officers be charged now by Keith Ellison, because, again, we want the case completely taken out of the hands of the Hennepin County attorney.
But beyond that, I need to talk a little bit about our concerns regarding Keith Ellison. We do not feel that Keith Ellison will be impartial enough to directly oversee prosecution in this case. So what we are calling for is the appointment of a completely independent special prosecutor to oversee this case, preferably someone from outside the state of Minnesota, with a strong national reputation, a person who’s credible, a person who is known for being fair and just —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: — [inaudible] cases like this.
AMY GOODMAN: Nekima Levy Armstrong, I want to thank you so much for being with us, civil rights attorney, activist, founder of the Racial Justice Network, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.
And that does it for our show, Democracy Now! working with as few people on site as possible. The majority of our remarkable team is working from home. If you’d like to sign up for our Daily Digest, our daily newsletter, you can go to democracynow.org. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.