In the bystander video that has been watched by millions around the world, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, begged for his life and cried for his mother before he visibly stopped breathing with the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer still pinned to his neck on Monday.
The video (warning: shocking content and profanity) has since sparked international outrage. Many people, including several prominent Christian leaders across racial and denominational lines, are now speaking out and urging others to take a stand against racial injustice.
Miles McPherson, senior pastor of the popular Rock Church in California, noted on Twitter: “Another black man was killed on camera, this time as four police officers held him down.
“This breaks my heart! Holding a hand-cuffed man down with your knee on his neck as he shouts he can’t breathe. What will it take for this to be unacceptable to all of us. #GeorgeFloyd.”
In the video, Floyd begged as the officer kept him pinned to the pavement resting firmly on his neck minutes before he would lay motionless.
“Please! Please! Please!” Floyd said as he moaned in pain with what sounds like labored breathing. A voice from a bystander in the video could be heard begging the officer to “let him breathe, at least.”
“I’m about to die,” Floyd pleaded again.
“Relax,” the officer told him.
“I can’t breathe. My face,” he responded as the officer kept pressing into his neck and asked him, “What do you want?”
“I can’t breathe. Your knee’s in my neck. I can’t breathe, sh*t,” he said.
Floyd cried for his mother in desperation as his pleas to the officer went unheeded.
“Mama! Mama!” he cried.
Floyd then tells the officer pinning him down that he was feeling pain everywhere.
“My stomach hurt. My neck hurt. Everything hurts,” he said.
Floyd was soon begging for water.
“Water or something. Please. Please,” he said.
About a minute-and-a-half into the video, a female bystander remarked that Floyd’s nose is bleeding. A male onlooker begged the officer to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck and tries to reason with him.
“He’s human bro,” he said.
Floyd continued to scream, “I cannot breathe.”
About four minutes into the video, Floyd’s cries began to taper off. His movement on the ground became mild twitches. He gasps for air. He eventually stopped twitching. His body is motionless after just over four minutes.
Bystanders who watched this happen screamed at the officer to remove his leg from Floyd’s neck. But he refused and threatened him with mace. They demanded that Floyd’s pulse be checked.
An Asian officer, who had been keeping the bystanders at bay, told them during a back-and-forth that Floyd is “off crack right now. He probably [overdosed].”
Floyd’s limp body was eventually removed by paramedics in the video, which is about 10 minutes in length. Floyd was later pronounced dead.
The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement that officers had responded to a call about a man suspected of forgery. According to the Star Tribune, police had been called after someone tried to pay with a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods.
The man was found sitting on top of a blue car and “appeared to be under the influence.”
“He was ordered to step from his car,” according to the department’s statement. “After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
On Tuesday morning, without referring to the bystander video, the police updated the statement, titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” The police said that additional information had “been made available” and that the FBI was joining the investigation.
Leaders like popular contemporary Christian musician Matthew West, who watched a part of the video, said what he witnessed was “wrong and evil on every level.”
“Sick to my stomach after watching video of police taking the life of #GeorgeFloyd I’m sure some say ‘well, you need to see the whole video,’” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “But context won’t change what I feel deep in my spirit right now. What I just saw is WRONG and EVIL on every level.”
Pastor Sheryl Brady of the Potter’s House of North Dallas agreed that now is a good time from all Christians to speak out against injustice and urged the faith community in a Facebook Live broadcast to take a stand.
“I know I am appalled at this. I’m tired of this and it needs to change. And I think we all need to speak up and speak out. What we saw was the actual life squeezed out of this man who was laying on the ground by an officer who put his knee and his body weight in the neck of a man who was pleading for mercy,” she said.
“Somebody says maybe we should wait until the facts come out Pastor Brady. You know what, I don’t want to wait until the facts come out. I just saw ten minutes worth and I am just so over this. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And somebody’s gotta speak up. We gotta speak up because this should not be happening.”
In a series of tweets Tuesday, international evangelist Christine Caine suggested that after watching the video of Floyd’s death, she is also beginning to change her perspective about the experience of people of color and the realities they live.
“I used to see videos like this and think to myself, ‘Let’s wait for all the details to come out.’ Now after seeing too many videos like this to name I’m beginning to wonder if my response should have been, ‘Maybe I should try to understand their pain,’” she wrote. “Sometimes we can be so blinded by our experience & reality that we invalidate someone else’s. Today our black brothers & sisters are experiencing another trauma that communicates to them that their lives aren’t valuable.”
“Centuries of reoccurring trauma takes its toll on a people group. Today I choose to lay down my truth to learn from my friends of color. If we are truly the body of Christ one pain affects us all. We aren’t just the body when it’s convenient,” Caine argued. “We are the body when it’s hurting and broken. No more than the leg can disconnect from the arm can I disconnect my pain from that of my brethren. I’d like to share what I’m learning with you. This has to change.”
Attorney Tom Kelly told USA Today that he is representing former officer Derek Chauvin, who was said to be the officer filmed pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey apologized to the black community.
“For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes,” Frey said. “When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense. What happened on Chicago and 38th this last night is simply awful. It was traumatic, and it serves as a clear reminder of just how far we have to go. To the black community, to the family, I’m so sorry.”