It is difficult to put into the words the tragedy that recently unfolded in Minneapolis, MN. The twin cities are known for being friendly, welcoming places; however, it appears that even these cities are prone to excessive uses of force on the part of law enforcement officers. George Floyd was murdered by a police officer as others stood by, watching him die, even as local citizens screamed for the officers to get off of him. George Floyd was shouting that he couldn’t breathe and, ultimately, the knee on his neck led to his death. Some people have even compared this tragic murder to a lynching that was common in the Jim Crow South.
The officer was arrested shortly after the incident and has been charged with third-degree murder. Many people have been saying that these charges aren’t enough. The charge should be higher, such as second-degree murder. It is important to note that the investigation is still unfolding and in the world of criminal law, it is not unusual for additional charges to be brought or for existing charges to be upgraded. In addition, it is also possible (and likely) that charges will be brought against the other three officers involved. All of the officers were immediately fired after the murder of George Floyd.
One of the questions that some people have asked is whether or not a wrongful death lawsuit will be brought by the family of George Floyd against the city of Minneapolis and the local police department. Ultimately, this is up to the family; however, it is likely that they have a case. First of all, there is a precedent for wrongful death cases being brought against the police following the death of someone in police custody. A wrongful death case does not require a criminal conviction to move forward; however, a criminal conviction would certainly strengthen any case because the burden of proof is much higher in criminal court than in civil court (which is where a wrongful death lawsuit plays out). In order to prove a wrongful death case, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant had a duty to provide care to the person who is deceased and that the defendant’s action (or inaction) contributed to that person’s death. Given that the knee on the neck of George Floyd led to this homicide (as rendered by multiple autopsies), a wrongful death case would likely be strong.
It is critical for this country to take a hard look at the relationship between police officers and communities of color, as well as systemic racism as a whole. Murders such as the one that took the life of George Floyd should not happen, particularly not at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve.