George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, and in the last year, his death has sparked demonstrations around the world, changes to law enforcement policy on the local and national level, and a high-profile trial which ended in the conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer for murder.
Here’s a brief timeline of some of the momentous changes in this country since Floyd’s death.
May 25, 2020
On Memorial Day, George Floyd and a friend went to Cup Foods in Minneapolis around 8 p.m. local time. Officers were called after employees alleged Floyd used a counterfeit bill inside the store.
In trying to arrest Floyd, there was a struggle and the Black man ended up on the pavement, with handcuffs on, with three white officers on top of him. One officer, Derek Chauvin, placed his knee on Floyd’s back and neck for nearly nine minutes.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Floyd was unconscious and not breathing. He was declared dead after being transported to Hennepin County Medical Center at 9:25 p.m. CT.
The incident happened on a public street in front of the store, and several bystanders recorded it.
One young woman in particular, Darnella Frazier, who was 17 at the time, shared a 10-minute video clip of Floyd’s arrest and death to social media. It quickly went viral.
Almost immediately after the video of Floyd’s arrest and death was shared on social media, people began gathering in cities around the country to demonstrate against police brutality and racial inequality.
The most intense protests were between May 27 and May 29, when the Minneapolis police third precinct building was overrun and set on fire. Damage to Minneapolis and St. Paul area businesses and properties totaled more than $550 million. Police reported more than 600 arrests by June 2, 2020, and at least two people died as a result of the violent protests and destruction of buildings.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard and the deadly violence mostly subsided by the end of May. However, marches, demonstrations, and events focused on police brutality and issues of injustice have continued in Minneapolis over the last year.
In the fall of 2020, federal prosecutors had arrested and charged a few members of the far-right anti-government group “boogaloo movement” and accused them of being in Minneapolis during the protests following Floyd’s death with the intention of causing destruction.
Minneapolis was not alone, thousands of demonstrations took place across the country, and while some escalated to violence and destruction, the majority were peaceful. According to a report from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), there were nearly 8,000 demonstrations linked to the Black Lives Matter movement between May 26 and Aug. 22 — 93% of which were peaceful, they said.
Demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, drew the attention of the country, as well as the federal government. Near-daily demonstrations started following the death of Floyd and continued through the summer, increasing in violence in late June and July as rioting and counter-protests grew.
In early July 2020, the federal government sent law enforcement agents from several agencies to Portland for the purpose of protecting federal property after buildings had been damaged. However, the federal agents’ tactics came under scrutiny as reports came out about secret arrests, officers using unmarked vans, and violence toward demonstrators.
After federal agents left the city, demonstrations in Portland continued into the fall and winter, albeit more sporadically.
Floyd’s death sparked demonstrations and calls for racial justice around the world; notably in Europe, where protesters in England and France called on political leaders for police reform after similar local incidents.
His face became a symbol of the fight for racial justice and police reform, and Floyd's likeness was recreated in murals, displays, and on both indoor and outdoor public walls around the country.
Floyd’s death was the third high-profile killing of a Black person at the hands of white men so far in 2020; Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her Louisville apartment in March and Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while out for a run in February. Some believe the growing frustration with racial injustice and police brutality, combined with the strict stay-at-home orders in place at the time to slow the spread of the coronavirus, increased the number and size of demonstrations in the summer of 2020.
The morning after Floyd’s death, May 26, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced the four officers involved had been fired and would be charged.
"Whatever the investigation reveals, it does not change the simple truth that he (Floyd) should be with us this morning," Arradondo said at the time. "Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.”
On May 29, charges were announced against former officer Derek Chauvin; he was charged initially with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. A few days later, on June 3, the attorney general added a second-degree murder charge.
The other three officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, were charged on June 3, 2020, with aiding and abetting murder.
In July 2020, Floyd's family files a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis.
On March 12, 2021, the Minneapolis city council approved a $27 million settlement to the Floyd family following a wrongful death lawsuit. The settlement included $500,000 specifically for the neighborhood in which Floyd was killed.
On June 1, 2020, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner released their official autopsy report on Floyd’s death and ruled the manner of death was homicide.
The medical examiner found Floyd suffered “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” and that “decedent experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer.”
They also noted there was a small amount of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.
A second autopsy, commissioned by Floyd’s family, agreed the manner of death was homicide and cited asphyxia due to neck and back compression. That autopsy ruled out any underlying medical problems that may have contributed to his death.
Defund the police
In early June, demonstrators in Minneapolis began focusing their efforts on a movement to “defund the police.” They argued city and state funds should be used for alternative response teams and community services, rather than police officers; activists argued mental health professionals could better handle certain calls for help that the police were currently handling.
On June 7, 2020, nine of the 13 members of the Minneapolis city council signed a pledge to “defund police.” However, the pledge was vague and the effort lost momentum later in the year after a lack of community support for measures to reduce the size of the police force.
By the end of 2020, the city council voted to move 4.5%, or roughly $7.7 million, of the city's police annual budget to mental health crisis teams, violence prevention programs, and for civilian employees to handle non-emergency theft and property damage reports.
The council is currently considering a measure that would move oversight of the police department under a larger Department of Public Safety, which would include violence prevention programs, and remove it from directly under the oversight of the mayor.
Other cities responded to the growing national cry to “defund the police,” some cities trimmed their police budgets by 3% to 15%.
President Joe Biden’s recent coronavirus relief bill calls for an estimated $1 billion over 10 years in federal payments to states that set up mobile crisis teams to respond to some police calls, now locally operated in only a handful of places.
Sending teams of paramedics and behavioral health specialists would take mental health crisis calls out of the hands of uniformed and armed officers, whose appearance, some argue, may inadvertently ratchet up tensions in a tense situation.
George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
Amidst growing calls for police reform, California Rep. Karen Bass authored a bill in June 2020 that included several items previously discussed by community and political leaders.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, also known as H.R. 7120, includes a ban on chokeholds, a ban on no-knock warrants, makes officers who witness inappropriate behavior by another officer responsible for reporting it, and would empower the Department of Justice to investigate law enforcement agencies who display a pattern of discrimination.
The measure passed the House of Representatives in early March 2021 and is currently waiting to be brought up in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department to look into a potential pattern of unlawful policing. The investigation is ongoing.
Trial of Derek Chauvin
Former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree and third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Jury selection began on March 8, 2021, and the jury returned their verdict on April 20 after deliberating for about 10 hours over two days.
Judge Peter Cahill will issue Chauvin’s sentence during a court appearance on June 25. The judge has already announced he is accepting the prosecutors’ request for what the state calls “upward departure,” allowing for a longer sentence than state guidelines would normally suggest based on aggravating factors in a particular case.
Those factors include that the manner of Floyd’s death was “particularly cruel,” the judge noted, and that the arrest and death happened with children present.
The three other officers who were at the scene at the time of Floyd’s death will stand trial in March 2022. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Judge Cahill said he moved the trial to next year to allow a planned federal case to proceed this year. All four former officers were indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month.
Chauvin, Thao, and Kueng are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and excessive force. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.