Understanding the Context of George Floyd’s Death

Violent protests break out in cities across the nation as enraged civilians take to the streets, demanding justice for Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Understand the details and context of George Floyd’s death below.

Pittsburgh Protest last Saturday; Nate Smallwood via Trib Live


On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man aged 46, was killed by Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Reaching audiences through social media almost instantly, witnesses captured the majority of the scene on video, demonstrating how Officer Chauvin placed his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck for approximately 9 minutes, until Floyd ceased his breathing and passed away at 8:25:31 pm that Monday (State of Minnesota, 2020). Officer Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter (“Absolute Chaos”, 2020).


Cup Foods, the store near the site of Floyd’s death (Armond, 2020)


Last Monday at around 8:00 pm at Cup Foods in Minneapolis, Minnesota (pictured above), a store employee placed a 911 call (State of Minnesota, 2020). The store employee explained to the emergency dispatcher that he or she thought that a man, later identified as George Floyd, had attempted to purchase a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. The employee explained to the dispatcher that he or she did not want to return the cigarettes back to the store owner. During the course of the call, the employee also described Floyd as “awfully drunk”, “not in control of himself”, and “not acting right” (State of Minnesota, 2020).


Two police officers, Officers Thomas Lane and J.A. Kueng, arrived at the scene (State of Minnesota, 2020). Floyd was parked, with two other people in his vehicle around the corner from where the incident occurred. The two officers approached Floyd’s car, and Officer Lane quickly pulled his gun, pointing it at Floyd’s open window. Officer Lane reupholstered the gun after Floyd put his hands on the steering wheel. Officer Lane then ordered Floyd to exit the vehicle, putting his hands on Floyd and pulling him out of the vehicle. Officer Lane began handcuffing Floyd, while Floyd resisted. After he was handcuffed, Floyd was compliant, walking along the sidewalk where the officer asked.


Officer Derek Chauvin; Hennepin County Sheriff via AP


However, Floyd resisted again after Officers Lane and Kueng started to walk Floyd toward the police car. According to the police report, Floyd “stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic.” Officer Chauvin, pictured above, then arrived on the scene. As Floyd stood outside of the vehicle, he began to repeat that he could not breathe. Shortly thereafter, Officer Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the police car and Floyd went straight to the ground, face down (State of Minnesota, 2020).


As these events escalated, witnesses then began to record the scene as it unfolded (“George Floyd”, 2020). (One of the videos is posted below. Warning: this footage is graphic.) Officer Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds (State of Minnesota, 2020). During this time, Floyd said “I can’t breath” repeatedly and pleaded for his “mama”. After Officer Chauvin had been kneeling on Floyd for 5 minutes and 83 seconds, Floyd ceased his breathing. Two minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd’s breathing stopped, Officer Chauvin removed his knee. After being taken to the hospital, George Floyd was pronounced dead (State of Minnesota, 2020).


Warning: This video contains graphic content; however, if you wish to view the video of George Floyd’s death, click here.


From the autopsy report, investigators found that George Floyd died as a result of a mixture of factors, including restraint by police, potential intoxicants in Floyd’s body, and underlying health conditions–including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease (State of Minnesota, 2020). Some protesters may not be aware that suffocation was not the sole factor contributing to Floyd’s death, in fact, the autopsy report stated that there were no signs of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation; however, according to the autopsy, the restraint by police was one of the three exclusive factors contributing to Floyd’s death.


Because of the inherently reckless nature of the policeman’s actions and the inescapable, viral video of Mr. Floyd’s death, demonstrators have taken to the streets to fight this injustice, raising the Black Lives Matter movement to an entirely new level. The case’s criminal complaint emphasizes that police are trained not to put suspects in a locked position on their chest because it is inherently dangerous, also known as “culpable negligence” (State v. Frost, 1983). Whether Officer Chauvin acted by “perpetrating an eminently dangerous act and evincing depraved mind”, which comprises third-degree murder (State of Minnesota, 2020), or he simply acted recklessly, which details a manslaughter charge, (or neither of the above), is up for the judges to decide; however, given the officer’s behavior and the eternal attention the video of George Floyd’s death has received, it appears that protesters will not cease their demonstrations until they receive the justice they believe George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement deserve.


Coming later this week: more detailed coverage on the George Floyd protests in large US cities.



(2020, May 29). ‘Absolute chaos’ in Minneapolis as protests grow across U.S. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/us/floyd-protests-usa.html

(2020, May 29). Derek Chauvin charged with third degree murder in death of George Floyd. [Video]. CBS Evening News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve8S0rGd9-c

(2020, May 30). George Floyd: What happened in the final moments of his life. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52861726

Armond, Jason. (2020, June 1). Independent autopsy of George Floyd contradicts official report. [Photograph]. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-06-01/george-floyd-independent-autopsy-asphyxia

Forliti, A. & Sullivan, T. (2020, May 30). Officer charged with George Floyd’s death as protests flare. [Photograph]. Associated Press. https://apnews.com/e27cfce9464809aa8c91afd74c930bb5/gallery/3e6f83056df74642869c4203559d5c55

Smallwood, N. (2020, May 30). Pittsburgh erupts in violence as George Floyd protests spin out of control. [Photograph]. Trib Live. https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-erupts-in-violence-as-george-floyd-protests-spin-out-of-control/

State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin, (4th Cir. 2020). Retrieved from http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/chauvin-complaint.pdf

State of Minnesota v. Frost. 342 N.W.2d 317 (1983).

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Naomi Matthusen is a junior at Queens University of Charlotte, majoring in Political Science and double minoring in French and Professional Writing & Rhetoric. She has conducted political and legal research on a variety of topics during her time as a student at Queens, and she has canvassed for several political campaigns, has worked for a law firm, and has been involved in politics at the state level.

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