A man had just visited his neighborhood convenience store when he fell into the hands of police, who were responding to a forgery in progress.
Unbeknownst to the man, he had used a counterfeit $20 to pay for his purchase, according to the store clerk. The clerk was told by his manager to call the police.
Two officers responded, and then three more arrived to the scene.
The man is removed from his car, placed in handcuffs and walked toward one of the squad cars. There appeared to be a struggle based on surveillance camera footage.
A passerby stopped to look. Another stopped two minutes later and began to record the arrest. Another witness took out her phone and recorded too.
Lying face down in the street, the man’s body is pressed to the ground. Three officers were on top of him, with one of the officer’s knees on the man’s neck.
The man cried out, “Please, man! Please!”
The man foamed at the mouth, bled from his nose, cried out for relief.
He told the officers he couldn’t breathe. He cried out for his mother. He told onlookers that the officers were going to kill him.
More innocent bystanders stopped on the sidewalk in front of the convenience store to intervene, shouted at the officers to stop hurting the man and told them how wrong their actions were.
A fourth officer stood between the crowd and the other three police. He said to the crowd, “Don’t do drugs, kids.” He mocked the man and warned them it seemed.
Then the man fell silent. He didn’t move and neither did the officers.
There was an off-duty EMT present, but she was not allowed to render life-saving aid to the man or even wipe his nose or mouth.
The officer’s knee was still on the man’s neck when the paramedics arrived and checked for a pulse. The man was unresponsive.
The officers were on top of him for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
The story of George Floyd’s death is tragic from every angle.
He died pleading for his life and in front of a crowd that felt helpless to save him. He died with his hands behind his back, handcuffed and pinned down.
He was not struggling against the enforcers of the law but against death. He was gasping for air and said repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”
George Floyd died in front of a crowd that reached for their cellphones because perhaps they feared the officers who too often reach for their guns.
“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” we, protesters, chanted after the deaths of Michael Brown Jr., LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille and too many others. Because police officers shoot and say that they feared for their lives.
Cowboys and “Indians,” – the latter a misnomer – heroes and villains, cops and robbers – these false binary roles suggest that people are either the good guys or the bad ones.
But cowboys were villains. Just ask those Indigenous to what is now the United States.
It is like the Zimbabwean proverb says, “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Nigerian author Chinua Achebe said it this way, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Most African American people speak of having a target on their backs, of being unable to move freely throughout the country for fear of being attacked by police officers. But they don’t get to write the police reports.
“He fit the description…” “I thought he was reaching for a gun.” “She was resisting arrest.”
It’s all written down on paper like that counterfeit $20 that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
The U.S. dollar is not worth what it used to be in many countries anyway. It certainly wasn’t worth George Floyd’s life.
The sad thing is the matter could have been cleared up. If someone would have offered to pay his bill, to pick up his tab, George Floyd might still be alive.
This was a systemic failure of the legal system. This show of force, this need to arrest and imprison persons over alleged minor infractions seems to be the only option for too many police.
Because there are clearly good guys and bad ones, right?
George Floyd died in police custody, and all the Good Samaritans were prevented from intervening.
So, who could be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the police?
Because the law wasn’t on their side; it was on George Floyd’s neck.