(CNN) — The family of George Floyd — who died after pleading that he couldn’t breathe while a police officer held him down with a knee on his neck — say they want the four Minneapolis officers involved charged with murder.
“They were supposed to be there to serve and to protect and I didn’t see a single one of them lift a finger to do anything to help while he was begging for his life. Not one of them tried to do anything to help him,” Tera Brown, Floyd’s cousin, told CNN’s Don Lemon.
In an emotional interview Tuesday night, Brown and Floyd’s two brothers held up his picture and spoke of a man who “didn’t hurt anybody” and who they described as a “gentle giant.”
“Knowing my brother is to love my brother,” Philonise Floyd said. “They could have tased him; they could have maced him. Instead, they put their knee in his neck and just sat on him and then carried on.”
“They treated him worse than they treat animals,” he said.
Minneapolis police said officers were responding to an alleged forgery Monday evening and were told a person later described as the suspect was sitting on a car. They found Floyd, who at that point was inside a car and police said he “physically resisted” after he got out. Officers handcuffed Floyd, who police said “appeared to be suffering medical distress.” He died at a hospital shortly after, police said.
Video captured by bystanders at the scene of the arrest shows an officer with his knee pressed against the neck of the 46-year-old, who was handcuffed on the pavement, complaining that his body hurt and he couldn’t breathe. Two officers handled the man on the ground while another stood nearby with his eyes on the bystanders as traffic passed.
Surveillance video obtained from a nearby restaurant showed the first point of contact police had with the man. An officer escorts Floyd handcuffed out of a car and Floyd sits on the sidewalk. Moments later, the officer and another escort Floyd away, still with his hands behind his back.
State and federal authorities are investigating the case and the police department said the four officers involved were fired Tuesday.
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said in a statement the officers were cooperating in the investigation and urged “now is not the time to rush to (judgment)” while the officers’ actions are examined.
“They need to be charged with murder because what they did was murder,” Brown said. “And almost the whole world has witnessed that because somebody was gracious enough to record it.”
“They need to pay for what they did,” she said.
A day after the man’s death, hundreds gathered at the same intersection where Floyd was pinned to the ground and later marched to a police precinct to protest his death.
The protesters chanted “No justice, no peace,” and “I can’t breathe.”
Some demonstrators wheeled a shopping cart full of rocks just outside the precinct and dumped it on the ground for people to throw, a CNN team there reported.Police sprayed tear gas to disperse the crowd after some people turned unruly, a spokesman for the police department said.
‘I can’t breathe’
Video of Floyd’s encounter with police that has circulated on social media shows one police officer with his knee on Floyd to keep him on the ground.
“Please, I can’t breathe,” the man says, screaming for several minutes before he became silent. Bystanders urged the officer to release the man from his hold.
The technique is against department regulations, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Tuesday, and the officer had no reasons to employ it.
“The technique that was used is not permitted; is not a technique that our officers get trained in on,” he said. “And our chief has been very clear on that piece. There is no reason to apply that kind of pressure with a knee to someone’s neck.”
In the video, the police officer’s leg remains on Floyd for several minutes, even as the man is pleading for help.
“My stomach hurts,” Floyd can be heard telling the officer. “My neck hurts. Everything hurts.”
At one point the man said, “Give me some water or something. Please. Please.”
By the end of the video, Floyd is seen motionless, with his eyes shut, laying on the pavement.
The incident recalls the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who also uttered the words “I can’t breathe” while in a New York officer’s chokehold. Since Garner’s death, the phrase has become a rallying cry throughout the Black Lives Matter movement.
That officer never faced charges. He was fired in 2019 after being found guilty in a disciplinary trial of using a chokehold on Garner and later sued the city over his termination.
Floyd’s cause and manner of death remains pending and is being investigated by local, state and federal law enforcement, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement.
Frey offered his condolences to Floyd’s family Tuesday, adding that what the video shows was “utterly messed up.”
“For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man,” Frey said in a news conference.
“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.”
“Being black in America,” he added, should not be “a death sentence.”
FBI is investigating
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into Floyd’s death, which will focus on whether the Minneapolis Police Department officers involved “willfully deprived (Floyd) of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States,” according to a statement from the FBI Minneapolis Division.
The FBI said it will present its findings to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota for consideration of possible federal charges.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is conducting its own investigation into possible violations of Minnesota statutes, the FBI said.
US Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo after the incident, “to me this evidence is just crying out for some kind of a charge.”
“I know that officers, including in my state, look at that (incident) and they think that is wrong. That cannot happen. And that kind of message has got to be sent to the African-American community, from the law enforcement community.”
“That they look at this case and that they do what’s right under the law,” she said.