One was a veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department who moonlighted as an off-duty security guard. The other provided security at a Salvation Army store and spent some of his evenings at local clubs, working as a bouncer.
In the year before their fatal encounter, George Floyd, 46, and the officer now charged with his death, Derek Chauvin, 44, worked at the same Minneapolis Latin nightclub, both part of the team responsible for keeping rowdy customers under control.
Their paths crossed for the last time in the waning light of a Memorial Day evening, outside a corner store known as the best place in town to find menthol cigarettes. Within an hour, Floyd was dead, his last pleas and gasps captured in a horrifically graphic video.
In a move that has since prompted protests in cities across the country, Chauvin knelt down on Floyd behind a police vehicle outside the store. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday by the Hennepin County district attorney, the police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck in silence, staring toward the ground as his captive gasped repeatedly that he could not breathe.
Bystanders waved their cellphones, cursed and pleaded for help, and still, for two minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had stopped protesting and became unresponsive, the officer continued to kneel.
The case has become part of a now-familiar history of police violence in recent years in which African American men have died in encounters that were shockingly mundane in their origins — Eric Garner, who died after a 2014 arrest in New York for selling cigarettes without tax stamps; Michael Brown, who died in an encounter with police the same year in Ferguson, Missouri, after walking in the street instead of using the sidewalk.
Floyd’s case began with a report of a counterfeit $20 bill that a storekeeper said he tried to pass to buy cigarettes.
“He died for nothing — something about a fake bill — that was nothing,” said Jason Polk, 53, a city bus driver and one of a number of South Minneapolis residents who have expressed outrage over the case.