The death of George Floyd
George Floyd, a 46-year-old father of five, was arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis on 25th May, accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Footage of the arrest shows a police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and pinned to the floor. Despite Floyd saying more than 20 times that he couldn’t breathe, the police officer continued applying pressure for almost eight minutes. After Chauvin removed his knee, a motionless Floyd was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center in an ambulance. He was pronounced dead an hour later.
Wale Agboola: “I remember the moment I heard about George Floyd’s killing. It was the morning after and I was in my car on the way to a shoot. Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was playing on my phone. I switched to the radio and heard there was another killing of a black man in Minneapolis. I pulled over, went onto Facebook and I saw a friend had posted the video of his death.
“It’s difficult to describe what comes over your body when you see someone that looks exactly like you being treated that way by a police officer. Can you imagine someone putting their knee on your neck for eight minutes? And you’re crying out ‘I can’t breathe’. You call for your mother, you yell ‘They’re going to kill me!’ And still he kneels on.
“In my soul, looking at George Floyd dead on the ground, I believed that was me. He was my skin colour, he had a wide nose like I do, he had eyes like mine. That was a black man. Why do the police always think we’re basically just this separate species that they can treat with such anger? For example, Dylann Roof – who shot up a church in 2015 – was apprehended alive, and then they gave him Burger King. A black man is accused of using counterfeit money and he ends up dead. With black people the police response is always anger, fear and hard punishment.
“I think every black person saw themselves in that moment. I’m a very peaceful human being. But when
I saw that video, I knew the anger that I felt and the pain that I felt; I was crying and if I could feel that way, trust me, it’s not going to go good for anyone.”
The burning of the Third Precinct
As footage of the killing spread, hundreds took to the streets in protest. On 28th May, demonstrators gathered around the Third Precinct police station where the officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest were based, and set fire to it.
“The night after I found out, I couldn’t sleep. I went over to Cup Foods where George Floyd was killed. I had my camera and was just taking it all in, and then a friend told me, ‘Come to the Third Precinct right now.’ When we got there, it felt like Mars. There was broken glass, tear gas and what felt like an entire block burning. My skin felt like it was on fire. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I realised that, while this was something that was so big and so crazy, it was also something that needed to happen. Because when you push an entire group of people to a wall, they’re bound to push back. I’ve been to a lot of marches, but I’ve never seen people rebel and really fight for what they believe in. They weren’t going to go into that good night very quietly.
“What kept going through my head was ‘They have to listen now’. Despite the destruction, it felt peaceful. I didn’t see anyone inflicting any violence on any other person; there were fireworks going off, music was playing. It was a gathering. And then things got really out of hand.”
As protests were staged in other cities, Minneapolis declared a state of emergency after looting and violence broke out. President Trump threatened to send in the National Guard, tweeting that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. It was hidden by Twitter for “glorifying violence”.
“It got really intense over the next couple of days. Looters and racist groups coming into town and terrorising people, people who weren’t here for the real movement. It became like a war zone – at one point
I had to hide in some bushes not to be caught by [neofascist group] the Proud Boys. There were still peaceful protests during the day, but at night it was like a switch had been flipped. The city was a different beast. You had to brace yourself.
“I remember walking through Lake Street, an area that I had ridden my bike around as a kid, and it was completely decimated. I remember seeing the Wells Fargo bank on fire. The worst moment was at a protest that had closed the interstate highway. A truck was driven through the crowd. Luckily no one was killed that day because everyone rushed out of the way. It was really not a good day. That was when I took the photo of the man screaming ‘Say his name!’ and the crowd responding ‘George Floyd!’”
On 29th May, Derek Chauvin was charged with murder and manslaughter. After authorities in Minneapolis deployed the National Guard, order was restored in the city. Insurers later estimated the cost of the property destruction and looting to be at least $25 million.
“Without any complaints, people got together and started cleaning up. It was like, ‘This is our community and we’re going to rebuild it.’ It was a strange time, people were smiling, it seemed like everyone had this optimism in their soul, but still everyone also understood the anger that had brought them there.
“I walked around neighbourhoods that I grew up in and I’ve seen burnt to the ground. But the light in all of this was watching people lend a hand to each other. It felt like something that we all had to do, because this is our home. It really was a thing of beauty. I stopped photographing and started to help. We were delivering food supplies, water, diapers. It was really amazing to see everyone come together so quickly – working out where to set up camp, where people could come and pick up sponges, soap, toothpaste. I will always be mad at the media for not covering how the community got up and rebuilt itself, and reminded themselves and everyone that we’re still human.”
A service for George Floyd was held on 4th June at Minneapolis’s Frank J Lindquist Sanctuary. The hundreds in attendance stood in silence for eight minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time Floyd was initially thought to have been pinned to the ground. Meanwhile Black Lives Matter protests continued around the world.
“The service was hard. It felt like a pure moment, it showed resilience, but I broke down that day. I was going through so much anger, so much grief. When everyone saw George Floyd’s casket it was really painful. Hopefully this was the pivot point where everyone stands up and starts working towards something better, something good that can help all of us.
“I didn’t know George Floyd, but I know he opened the eyes of everyone. His death started a campaign
of protest around the world. We didn’t choose him, the police chose him. What George Floyd has done for us is to help us to understand that this shit is global and it’s been happening for many years. We can just see it now because there are cameras and people recording it. He showed people the reason why I’m afraid to get pulled over by police, the reason I put my hands on my dashboard every time I am. He showed why we’re afraid and how hard it is being black in America.
“In Minneapolis now, four months after the memorial service, everyone is still on edge. If Trump wins in November there’s going to be a riot; if Trump loses there’s going to be a riot. For the entire year of 2020, black people have been mourning. It’s one death after another. It’s one struggle after another. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake. How long will it take for another person to get killed or shot by police? Why do we have to keep saying Black Lives Matter? Because right now the people that are getting killed and the people that are getting suppressed and the people that are getting treated like shit are black people. That needs to change. Otherwise all this, all the riots and the protests, is going to keep going on because the kids are tired of it, the streets are tired of it, everyone is tired of it.”
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