Derek Chauvin, the former police officer arrested for the death of George Floyd, faces a new charge of second-degree murder, the state of Minnesota announced on Wednesday while also filing charges of aiding and abetting murder against the three other former officers on the scene.
The new charges came after more than a week of protests across the United States that showed little sign of abating and members of Floyd's family and protesters across the country had called for more severe charges against all four officers.
“We strongly believe these developments are in the interest of jutstice for Mr Floyd, his family, this community and our state,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Wednesday.
“George Floyd mattered. He was loved, his family was important and his life had value,” Ellison said. “We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it.”
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Floyd family, said that “this is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest.
“That is a source of peace for George’s family in this painful time.”
Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minnesota after Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was pinned to the ground. Floyd was under arrest on suspicion of using a counterfeit US$20 bill to buy cigarettes.
Chauvin, 44, was one of four officers on the scene who were fired from the Minneapolis police force. He had been indicted for third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence. The second-degree murder charge is in addition to those.
Under Minnesota law, second-degree murder requires proof that a defendant intended to kill the victim, often suddenly, as in a crime of passion. Third-degree murder applies to anyone who “causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life”.
The other three officers, Thomas Lane, 37, J. Alexander Kueng, 26, and Tou Thao, 34, were charged with aiding and abetting murder, court records show. Kueng was in custody on Wednesday, according to county jail records, while authorities said they were in the process of arresting Lane and Thao.
The state of Minnesota said on Tuesday it had started civil rights investigations into the Minneapolis Police Department amid decades of allegations of systematic discrimination against people of colour, particularly African-Americans, against the department. The investigation could lead to indictment of the other three police officers.
The Hennepin County medical examiner in Minnesota released a report confirming that Floyd’s death was a homicide resulting from being restrained. It said the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restrain, and neck compression”.
In Washington, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said earlier on Wednesday that he did not want active-duty troops deployed on the streets of American cities to quell protests, in a comment that was at odds with President Donald Trump’s statements.
In a news conference at the Pentagon, Esper said such a deployment should be a “last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations”.
In a letter, 21 senators said they believed the protests did not meet the standard of “an insurrection, rebellion, or extreme civil unrest” and that “the president’s interpretation of the Insurrection Act contravenes its purpose and spirit [and] significantly departs from previous applications throughout our nation’s history”.
On Tuesday night, thousands had gathered near the heavily guarded White House across from Lafayette Park in the nation’s capital of Washington, in defiance of the 7pm curfew. The protesters faced off with police across a newly installed chain-link fence.
The Pentagon moved about 1,600 US Army troops into the region on Tuesday after several nights of violent protests in the city.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said the troops were on “heightened alert status” but were “not participating in defence support to civil authority operations”.
While scattered looting was reported overnight in New York, the Tuesday night protests were largely peaceful. Thousands of people walking across the Manhattan bridge from Brooklyn were stopped by police and prevented from entering Manhattan, leading to an hours-long stand-off. They sang “We Shall Overcome” at the Barclays Centre after returning to Brooklyn.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio moved up the curfew to 8pm from 11pm for the rest of the week after protests turned chaotic on Monday night. High-end shops on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s midtown, long an emblem of New York’s stature and prowess, remained boarded-up after looters had shattered countless windows and snatched expensive goods.
In Los Angeles, hundreds gathered outside the home of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who earlier in the day had joined the crowds and taken a knee as he listened to protesters’ pleas.
Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd’s daughter, on Tuesday told reporters in Minneapolis that Floyd would never see his child grow up to graduate and that she wanted “justice for him”. As she spoke, Gianna, 6, clung closely to her mother, looking stunned. Floyd’s family gathered in Houston, Texas, his hometown, for a memorial where they were joined by about 60,000 people.
In an election related to US racial divisions, Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican known for asking in an interview with The New York Times last year why the term “white nationalist” should be seen as offensive, lost his primary race.
The nine-term congressman lost to state senator Randy Feenstra, who will run for King’s seat against the Democrat, J D Scholten, in the general election in November.
King was stripped of his congressional committee assignments after saying in a January 2019 interview: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilisation – how did that language become offensive?”
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, spoke about Floyd’s death late on Tuesday, saying Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe” didn’t stop with him. Biden’s show of support for the protesters was in stark contrast to Trump’s championing of military force as a potential tool against the demonstrators.
As protests spread across the country and globe, companies including Nike, Adidas, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft have offered support to the demonstrators; some have given funds to social justice organisations.
Netflix, Amazon, Walt Disney’s Hulu, and AT&T’s HBO Max all tweeted that they stood in solidarity with protesters. Netflix said in a tweet that “to be silent is to be complicit”.
Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters
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