Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul on Friday became the latest Wisconsin officials to lament the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after being pinned down while in Minneapolis police custody.
Floyd, 46, died after a police officer kept a knee on his neck for several minutes while Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. The actions by Minneapolis police and the echoes of police killings of black Americans nationwide have prompted riots and protesting in that city and across the nation.
Minnesota authorities Friday afternoon announced that Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin and three other officers who were at the scene have been fired.
“Earlier this week, another Black life was extinguished before our eyes,” Evers said in a statement. “His name was George Floyd. He was 46. His life matters and his family deserves justice.”
Evers said “there was no empathy or humanity” in Floyd’s death, and that it was not an anomaly, listing the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being put in a choke-hold by a white police officer in New York City, and the deaths of black Wisconsinites Dontre Hamilton, Ernest Lacy and Sylville Smith, who were killed by police or died in police custody.
“In George Floyd’s death, we remember those Black Wisconsinites who we have lost to systemic racism and police violence,” said Barnes, Wisconsin’s first black lieutenant governor. He said acts of systemic violence are carried out daily against black communities in Wisconsin, including poverty, poor environmental conditions and inequitable access to health care.
Wisconsin is considered one of the worst states in the nation for racial disparities between white and black communities. Indicators include unemployment, income and education.
Barnes said he supports those protesting in cities such as Minneapolis, adding that “the idea that things should be better, not worse, is worth demonstration.”
“People are hurting,” Barnes said. “People are tired. We are done dying. I am tired of addressing the disregard for Black life in this country. Those who are protesting this injustice are doing so in order to save this nation, and they should be protected. To see a city burn on the outside is devastating but hardly compares to the implosion brought by systemic inequity and injustice.”
Kaul decried the death of Floyd as “torture and murder.”
“What America witnessed happening to George Floyd in Minneapolis was not, in any true sense of the phrase, law enforcement,” Kaul said in a statement. “It was torture and murder, under color of law. Justice demands that those involved in this depraved crime be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police group, said there was “no justification” for the officers’ actions surrounding Floyd’s death.
“The actions of the Minneapolis officers were outrageous, deplorable and revolting, and would not satisfy the use-of-force standards and best practices employed by law enforcement in Wisconsin,” Palmer said. “This incident not only makes the job of every law enforcement officer more difficult, it makes that job more dangerous as well. It undoes the good work that officers do and the strides that law enforcement has made to strengthen its relationships with the public it serves.”
Evers said people should be able to protest peacefully as well as report on the fallout from Floyd’s death without fear for safety or of being arrested. His comments came after members of a CNN crew were arrested in Minneapolis Friday morning while giving a live TV report. One of the crew members is black and Latino, one is white and the other is Hispanic. They were later released about an hour after being arrested.
“We must see the trauma, fear and exhaustion of being Black in our state and our country,” Evers said. “We must offer our empathy, we must offer our support, but most of all we must offer our action.”
Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the governor is aware of a handful of protests planned across the state this week, including one in Madison on Saturday, and participants are asked to maintain social distance from one another in accordance with public health guidelines due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“If you’re exercising that right, please wear your masks and keep social distance as best as you can,” Evers said in a statement.
The comments from the governor and attorney general come after chiefs of police across Dane County condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd’s arrest and death.
UW-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman, president of the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, called Floyd’s death heinous and unacceptable.
“Nothing can justify the actions or inactions of these officers,” Roman said of the officer who knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck for several minutes and three other officers who failed to intervene or render aid.
When acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl saw the video of the incident, he said, he felt a range of emotions from disbelief to dismay and anger toward the officers, as well as sorrow for Floyd’s family.
State Journal reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this report.
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