Splashed across placards, chanted by protesters and graffitied on walls: it was the slogan of 2020. ‘I can’t breathe’.
A routine police encounter in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 that year had resulted in the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man.
White police officer Derek Chauvin, attempting to arrest the unarmed Floyd, had knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, while Floyd gasped for air.
His words, caught on camera by horrified bystanders, catalysed the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the world that summer.
In Britain, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Premier League football players and a host of celebrities ‘took the knee’ in solidarity. There were calls to ‘defund’ the police.
Black employees were given leaves of absence from work to ‘grieve’. School curricula were ‘decolonised’. Statues of supposed historical racists were defaced and, in the case of 18th-century merchant Sir Edward Colston, thrown into Bristol harbour.
Chauvin’s trial was watched by millions on TV. When he was found guilty of murder on April 20, 2021, and sentenced to more than 22 years in prison, there was widespread celebration.
Officers Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were later convicted for their part in the killing and given prison sentences ranging from three years to four years nine months.
During the incident, Kueng had applied pressure to Floyd’s torso, Lane had restrained his legs and Thao had stood watching, telling onlookers: ‘This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.’
Now the dust has settled. As time has passed and emotions have calmed, some are beginning to question the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death.
Controversial as it may seem to those who faithfully marched in solidarity with racial minorities in the wake of the tragedy, evidence is emerging that questions the prevailing account of what took place that terrible day.
A new documentary, The Fall Of Minneapolis, has re-examined the case and reached some startling conclusions. The myth of an innocent Floyd callously murdered by a racist cop is not only questioned — but shaken to its core.
Produced by journalist Liz Collin of Minnesota’s Alpha News, the film outlines a very different scenario: officers working in difficult, fast-moving conditions to apprehend a volatile, heavily intoxicated suspect, a viral video that prompts worldwide mass protests and a virtue-signalling liberal elite all too ready to rush to judgment.
As academic and New York Times contributor John McWhorter — who is black — commented: ‘We were lied to. The whole way we think about George Floyd is wrong . . . including the way I thought of him . . . I had no idea that Derek Chauvin didn’t kill him.’
So what does the documentary tell us about this explosive moment in modern history? For many, the lasting image of that day is the gruesome picture of Chauvin in police uniform, his hand in his pocket, his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck as the black man lies dying on the ground. It looked like a harrowing tableau of racism.
But the documentary opens with police bodycam footage from the same day, before Chauvin arrived at the scene. This tells a very different story.
Some time before 8pm on May 25, Floyd had visited a supermarket to buy cigarettes. Staff suspected that he was using a fake $20 banknote, saying later that he was ‘not in control of himself’ and seemed ‘awfully drunk’.
After asking Floyd to return the cigarettes, which he refused to do, the supermarket staff called police. Officers Lane and Kueng then arrived on the scene.
Bodycam footage shows that after briefly entering the shop, Lane walks to Floyd’s car, which is parked outside. Floyd, sitting in the driver’s seat, is with two companions. Lane asks Floyd to show his hands four times, pointing his gun at him when he refuses.
Another passenger in the car, Shawanda Hill, 45, tells Floyd to stop resisting. Lane then pulls the suspect out of the car and handcuffs him, but Floyd continues to resist.
Having sat Floyd down on the pavement outside the shop, Lane and Kueng are then seen attempting to put Floyd safely into a police car, but he strongly resists again, shouting: ‘I have anxiety, I’m claustrophobic.’
He offers instead: ‘I’ll get on the ground, man, anything.’ One onlooker can be heard shouting at Floyd to get in the police car, saying: ‘You’re going to die of a heart attack, man.’
Significantly, we hear Floyd complain that he ‘can’t breathe’ well before he is restrained by Chauvin. Perhaps this explains why the officers took his later complaints of being unable to breathe less seriously.
In the documentary, Floyd seems to lie to the police again and again. He falsely denies he has taken drugs, replying ‘no, nothing’ when asked if he is ‘on anything’. His autopsy later revealed potentially fatal levels of fentanyl and amphetamines in his system.
He claims his mother ‘just’ died, when in fact she had passed away two years previously. He claims he had been shot by a police officer before: ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. God dang, man.
Man, I got shot. I got shot the same way, Mr Officer, before.’ No evidence has emerged to show that this ever happened.
The officers manage to get Floyd into the police car, where he struggles with them violently. Eventually, they pull him out and he falls to the ground.
A court later heard that Lane suggested the officers use the Maximum Restraint Technique (MRT). The footage shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
The Minneapolis Police Policy manual describes MRT as ‘compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway (front of the neck)’. It is a highly effective, but risky, method of subduing a potentially violent suspect.
About two minutes after Floyd was pushed to the ground and the MRT technique applied, the officers call paramedics ‘for one bleeding from the mouth’. Floyd claims: ‘I’m about to die.’
Overall, the picture the film paints is one of police officers desperately trying to do their jobs in near-impossible circumstances.
Floyd was 6ft 4in and more than 15st: a large and volatile male resisting arrest from armed officers, putting those around him in potential danger.
It is also worth mentioning that even if the officers were unaware of it, Floyd had eight previous criminal convictions, including a four-year stretch in jail for aggravated robbery.
It is implied, perhaps controversially, that if Floyd had only told the truth about his drug use and complied with police, he might be alive to this day.
To be clear: that is not to say his death was somehow his fault, only that the narrative surrounding it may be far more complicated than many have come to understand.
Yet while much of the evidence appears compelling, the documentary neglects to include some important facts.
During the arrest, Lane expressed concern about Floyd’s condition, twice suggesting that his colleagues put the suspect on to his side to allow him to breathe more easily — to which Chauvin replied ‘no’.
Once Floyd became unresponsive about five minutes later, Kueng checked his pulse and found none. The officers failed to give Floyd any medical assistance in the absence of paramedics.
Nor was Chauvin an angel of the Minneapolis Police Department. In fact, anything but. At least 18 complaints or internal investigations were filed against him during his more than 19 years on the force, with at least two resulting in disciplinary action.
Crucially, many of the complaints were about choking and the use of excessive force.
Furthermore, Collin herself is not necessarily an objective observer. She is married to an ex-Minneapolis police officer, Bob Kroll, who himself had received complaints for racist conduct.
He once referred to BLM as a ‘terrorist organisation’ and over the course of his career was involved in more than 20 lawsuits, often for excessive use of force.
Nonetheless, of all the evidence presented in Chauvin’s defence, perhaps the most convincing relates to his use of the Maximum Restraint Technique.
Former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified in court that the method of restraint was not used in police training.
But courageous and credible current and former Minneapolis officers — previously censored, claims Collin — interviewed in the film effectively accuse Arradondo of committing perjury, insisting they were trained to use it.
Indeed, according to the Minneapolis Police Policy Manual cited in the documentary, the restraint was official police procedure.
Further still, the film reveals that an MRT training photo used by police was not allowed to be shown to the jury, suggesting that further key evidence was omitted.
All this raises the question of whether or not Chauvin could fairly be convicted of murder. He was using, the documentary claims, a sanctioned police technique to restrain a difficult suspect. Why, it wonders, was this evidence not presented at trial?
As part of his defence, Chauvin’s legal team pointed out the high levels of illegal drugs found in Floyd’s system and state of his general health.
In any other circumstances, the quantities of fentanyl and methamphetamines he had taken would be sufficient to class his death as an overdose, according to Dr Andrew Baker, who performed the autopsy.
Several of Floyd’s arteries were 75 per cent blocked from severe underlying heart disease. He was also suffering from Covid.
Put all of this together and even the smallest increase in heart rate could have proved fatal. The medical examiner stated: ‘Floyd had Fentanyl at 11ng/ml [nanograms per millilitre] but deaths have been certified [with] levels of 3.
‘If he had been found dead at home alone and no other apparent causes this could be acceptable to call an OD [overdose].’
Given this proliferation of complicating and mitigating factors, was it fair to find Chauvin guilty ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’?
The film further implies that there was a huge pressure to secure Chauvin’s guilty conviction to appease BLM activists.
It highlights, for example, the limited media coverage given to Dr Andrew Baker, who performed the autopsy. Attorney Amy Sweasy is quoted in the film saying Baker said there were ‘no medical indications of asphyxia or strangulation’ on Floyd’s body.
She claims that Baker asked: ‘What happens when the actual evidence doesn’t match up with the public narrative that everyone’s already decided on?’ Baker, however, testified that Floyd’s cause of death was asphyxia, with drug use and heart disease as separate underlying factors.
In the documentary, Officer Kueng speaks on camera for the first time. ‘I don’t [blame Derek Chauvin],’ he says. ‘He made the decision he felt was right, he always did things by the book, he was [law] abiding and he did exactly what he was trained to do.
‘It is unfortunate that the publicity got as riled up as it did . . . and it took away any chance he had of being able to say his piece.
‘The justice system is controlled by mob mentality. Social media, news outlets and peer pressure control the outcomes of investigations. The justice system is no longer something you can trust.’
Remember, Chauvin’s trial took place in a febrile time. The film shows footage of rioters setting fire to Minneapolis buildings in the weeks after the death.
Politicians tacitly endorse the protests: Democrat Maxine Waters urges the mob to be ‘confrontational’ if a guilty verdict against Chauvin is not delivered, while Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey is seen weeping ostentatiously over Floyd’s coffin.
In such a climate, a truly fair trial was nearly impossible. During jury selection, all potential jurors were quizzed on their views on BLM.
All ticked the box for ‘favourable’ and it was not unusual to hear jurors state that they thought black and white people were not treated equally under the law. In any other criminal case, such leanings might be used by defence lawyers to dismiss jurors as biased.
Since the death of Floyd and the resulting mayhem, the Minneapolis force has been in disarray.
Hundreds of officers have resigned, crime has soared and morale is cripplingly low. The city suffered 93 homicides in 2022, compared with just 48 in 2019.
The bill for overtime police pay rocketed to almost $13 million as of 2022, with remaining officers forced to fill the gaps from staff shortages. Demands to ‘defund’ the police culminated in a failed referendum vote in 2021 to replace the city’s police department with a so-called ‘public safety’ body.
The Black Lives Matter movement has also been in crisis. Senior figures in the group — which raised more than $90 million in 2020 alone — have been exposed using donation money to line their own pockets and treat themselves to lavish new houses.
Recently, a Black Lives Matter ‘chapter’ in Chicago received widespread condemnation for glorifying Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.
In 2022, Chauvin appealed his guilty verdict to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but was dismissed.
Last month, he was stabbed 22 times with an improvised knife in prison in Tucson, Arizona, by a fellow inmate claiming to act in the name of ‘racial justice’. He was seriously injured and hospitalised.
The right to a fair trial is the cornerstone of any civilised democracy. This film has led many to question whether or not Chauvin and his fellow arresting officers truly received one after so much violence and hysteria convulsed the globe during that hot, disturbing summer.