The former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck before his death has been arrested on murder charges, local authorities announced on Friday after days of protests and riots.
Derek Chauvin, who was fired by the Minneapolis police department this week along with three others, was taken into custody on Friday, according to the Minnesota state public safety commissioner, who made the announcement to local media after a press conference. Minnesota prosecutors said Mr Chauvin had been charged with murder.
Keith Ellison, the state attorney-general for Minnesota, said at the news conference that “the message has been sent and received” that the criminal probes had to move quickly.
Violence erupted in Minneapolis late Thursday, as it had for much of the week, after footage of Floyd’s arrest showed Mr Chauvin kneeling on his neck for almost eight minutes as he lay face down and handcuffed.
Floyd can be heard on the video begging the officer to release his knee, saying “please, please, please, I can’t breathe” before he eventually fell motionless. The situation has echoes of the death of Eric Garner, the black man who died in New York in 2014 after being put in an illegal chokehold by a white police officer while repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”.
Local television stations and newspapers showed chaotic scenes in the Midwestern city as several buildings were set on fire and police struggled to control the protests.
A Minneapolis police precinct near where Mr Floyd was taken into custody on Monday was attacked and set ablaze. The authorities called on people to “retreat” from the area amid concerns the building could “explode”.
As the situation deteriorated, the Minnesota national guard said it had deployed 500 soldiers to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul to provide assistance to police and to defend firefighters.
A CNN reporter and crew who were filming the situation in the city on Friday morning were arrested on television while doing a live broadcast.
During the early morning hours on Friday, US President Donald Trump said he could not “stand back and watch this happen to a great American City.” Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump said he had told Minnesota governor Tim Walz the US military was prepared to “assume control”. He added: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
Floyd’s death on Monday prompted protests not only in Minneapolis, but in other major US cities.
“The uprising spreading across this country is fuelled by systemic racial issues that have been ingrained in the fabric of this nation for decades,” said Derrick Johnson, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil-rights group. “As we’ve seen over the past few days, these issues have now manifested into anger, sadness, fear, and confusion.”
Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday apologised on behalf of the city, saying “being black in America should not be a death sentence”. He said terminating the officers was the “right call” and later called for charges against the arresting officer in the Floyd case.
“If most people, particularly people of colour, had done what a police officer did late Monday, they’d already be behind bars,” Mr Frey said.