Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed charges against all four Minneapolis police officers involved in last week’s killing of George Floyd, which sparked ongoing nationwide protests. A charge of second-degree murder was added against officer Derek Chauvin, who was already facing a third-degree murder charge for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd pleaded for his life. The other three officers present were charged with aiding and abetting the murder. Chauvin was arrested last week. The other three officers — Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — are now in custody. Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s first African American attorney general, announced the charges on Wednesday afternoon.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: “Let me be honest here. I mean, our country has had — has underprosecuted these matters, in Minnesota and throughout the country. And so I think the trust is a result of historically not holding people who are public guardians accountable for their behavior in situations where we should have.”
A memorial service will be held today for George Floyd in Minneapolis. On Wednesday, his son Quincy Mason Floyd welcomed the charges against the officers.
Quincy Mason Floyd: “I am happy that all the officers have been arrested. My father should not have been killed like this. We deserve justice. That’s all I have to say.”
Massive protests calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality are continuing across the U.S. and around the world. In Washington, D.C., the largest crowd of protesters yet converged at the White House late Wednesday after a day of peaceful marches throughout the capital. They were met by uniformed National Guard members as well as scores of heavily armed people in riot gear with all insignias and name plates removed from their uniforms. The unidentified officers repeatedly refused reporters’ demands they identify which agencies they were with — raising comparisons to a paramilitary police force.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper broke with President Trump and said active-duty military troops should not be deployed to quell the ongoing protests.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper: “The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Esper said he also regretted urging governors on Monday to “dominate the battlespace” when dealing with protests. Early on Wednesday, Esper ordered the removal of some 200 active-duty soldiers with the 82nd Airborne who were deployed to Washington, D.C., but then reversed the pullout after what has been described as an angry meeting at the White House.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s former Pentagon chief James Mattis denounced Trump’s militarized handling of the protests. Mattis wrote, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort.”
On Wednesday, former President Obama expressed his support for the nationwide protests and criticized the actions of some police officers.
Barack Obama: “Too often, some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting you. I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter.”
Mass protests continue in New York City. Blocks of the Upper East Side were shut down Wednesday as a massive sit-in took place outside of Gracie Mansion, the residence of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Meanwhile, over 200 current and former staffers of the mayor signed an open letter. Their demands include cutting the police budget by $1 billion and reallocating the money to social services, including housing support and rental relief, food assistance and healthcare. The letter also calls for the firing of officers who have used excessive force during the protests.
This comes as the Legal Aid Society has filed a suit alleging that hundreds of protesters in New York are being held for longer than 24 hours in cramped cells during a pandemic.
In other news from New York, a 35-year-old African American named Jamel Floyd has died after being pepper-sprayed by guards inside the Metropolitan Detention Center. Floyd had been held at the Brooklyn jail since October 2019.
In California, a massive crowd of peaceful protesters converged at the Los Angeles Civic Center Wednesday, accusing L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey of failing to prosecute police officers accused of misconduct. The protests came as the Los Angeles City Council introduced legislation that would cut up to $150 million from the LAPD’s budget, diverting the funds toward health and education programs for communities of color.
Many leading athletes have come out publicly to support the protests. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.”
Meanwhile, many NFL stars are speaking out against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who recently criticized players who have taken a knee during the national anthem, saying he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” His teammate Malcolm Jenkins posted a video on Instagram responding.
Malcolm Jenkins: “Here we are in 2020 with the whole country on fire, everybody witnessing a Black man dying, being murdered at the hands of the police, just in cold blood, for everybody to see. The whole country is on fire. And the first thing that you do is criticize one’s peaceful protest?”
In other sports news, 16-year-old tennis star Coco Gauff spoke Wednesday at a Black Lives Matter protest in Delray Beach, Florida.
Coco Gauff: “No matter how big or small your platform is, you need to use your voice. I saw a Dr. King quote that said, 'The silence of the good people is worse than the brutality of the bad people.' So you need to not be silent.”
Monuments celebrating the nation’s racist history are coming down in several states after being targeted by protesters over the past week. On Wednesday, the city of Philadelphia removed a statue of the city’s former racist police chief and mayor, Frank Rizzo, just days after protesters attempted to topple it and light it on fire. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said, “The statue represented bigotry, hatred, and oppression for too many people, for too long.”
In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam is expected to order the removal today of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the state Capitol grounds in Richmond after it was vandalized during the protests.
In Birmingham, Alabama, protesters toppled a statue of Confederate officer Charles Linn and vandalized a monument known as the Confederate Sailors and Soldiers Monument. Following the action, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered the rest of the statue to be removed.
In Nashville, Tennessee, protesters toppled a statue of Edward Carmack, a racist politician and newspaper publisher who incited violence against Ida B. Wells for her reporting on lynchings.
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is holding up quick passage of a bill — sponsored by the Senate’s three Black members — that would make lynching a federal hate crime. Senator Paul objected to passing the bill by unanimous consent Wednesday, saying it could “conflate lesser crimes with lynching.” In February, the House passed its version of the bill, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, on a vote of 410 to 4.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis had a message for the American people Wednesday.
Pope Francis: “I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd. My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form, and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Pope Francis’s remarks came a day after President Trump visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday, which Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory called a “baffling and reprehensible” politicized photo op. Gregory is the first African American archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Labor Department has just released its latest unemployment numbers: 1.9 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week; 42.6 million U.S. workers have filed claims since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, a study by Bloomberg News finds the U.S. Treasury has failed to pay out a staggering $67 billion in unemployment benefits during the pandemic — about one-third of all the money owed to jobless Americans.
A coalition of public health officials is calling on police departments to end the widespread use of tear gas against protesters during the pandemic. An online petition signed by nearly 1,300 infectious disease specialists warns the gas could “increase risk for COVID-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection, exacerbating existing inflammation, and inducing coughing.” The experts also warn against holding anyone arrested in confined spaces, including jails or police vans, which are some of the highest-risk areas for COVID-19 transmission. Despite the health risks, the experts encourage people to continue their protests, writing, “White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19.”
Hong Kong’s legislature has passed a law making disrespect of the Chinese national anthem a crime. The law passed as police ramped up their crackdown on anti-government protests, and following a bitter debate that saw scuffles break out on the floor of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Its passage came on the 31st anniversary of the crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when Chinese forces crushed student protesters.