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  • Loraine Mponela

I Can't Breath

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street. Two other officers further restrained Floyd while a fourth prevented onlookers from intervening. During the final three minutes Floyd was motionless and had no pulse but officers made no attempt to revive him and Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck even as arriving emergency medical technicians attempted to treat him.

Several bystanders took videos of the incident, which were widely circulated and broadcast along with security-camera footage from nearby businesses; two of the officer's body cams were recording but that footage has not been released. A criminal complaint later filed against Chauvin stated that Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe while standing outside a police car, resisted getting in the car, and intentionally fell down; he went to the ground face down and, after Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd's neck, Floyd repeatedly said "I can't breathe", "Mama", and "please"


Two autopsies determined the manner of Floyd's death to be homicide. The Hennepin County medical examiner's autopsy found that Floyd died from cardiac arrest during application of "neck compression", also noting as significant conditions "arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use" A second autopsy, commissioned by Floyd's family, found that the "evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause" of death, with neck compression restricting blood flow to the brain, and back compression restricting breathing.


After Floyd's death, demonstrations and protests against use of excessive force by police officers and lack of police accountability were held across the United States.