George Floyd told officers 'I can't breathe' more than 20 times, transcripts show

Maanvi Singh in Oakland
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP</span>
Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Newly released transcripts of the minutes leading up to George Floyd’s death reveal he told officers “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times, only to have his plea dismissed by Derek Chauvin, the white officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck, who said: “It takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk.”

Floyd’s dying words have become a rallying cry at demonstrations around the world amid a reckoning with systemic racism and police brutality. The chilling transcripts of body-camera video recordings that were made public on Wednesday provide the most detailed account yet of what happened after police apprehended Floyd on 25 May.

Related: How America's broken autopsy system can mask police violence

Before he died, Floyd cried for his dead mother and his children. “Momma, I love you. Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead,” he said.

The new evidence was made public as part of efforts by one of the officers involved, Thomas Lane, to have charges that he aided and abetted in murder thrown out.

The Congressional Black Caucus, which is made up of most of the African American members of the US Congress, on Thursday stepped up calls for legislation to be passed to reform what many believe to be largely overly militarized police forces in the US, with many departments emphasizing highly aggressive responses to crime and unrest instead of fostering community relations and investing more in social services and education.

The Georgia congressman Hank Johnson tweeted: “Systemic racism permeates too many of our police departments in this country and has existed in policing for generations.”

Some have reacted not just with horror but with determination to bring change, one commenter tweeting on Thursday: “This is awful to read but necessary.”

Political commentator Keith Boykin simply tweeted Floyd’s own words, repeated over and over as he lay dying.

Others mentioned depravity.

The transcripts make clear Floyd tried to cooperate with police and told them he was not feeling well. “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. I need some water or something, please,” Floyd told them. Begging not to be put in a squad car, Floyd said he was claustrophobic.

A bus stop in Minneapolis is part of a memorial to George Floyd.
A bus stop in Minneapolis is part of a memorial to George Floyd. Photograph: Leila Navidi/AP

Much of what the public knew about Floyd’s death previously came from bystander video and surveillance footage. As officers noted that Floyd was passing out, the new transcripts revealed that onlookers asked if Floyd had a pulse. “He’s not even breathing right now, bro, you think that’s cool?” someone asked.

“You got one?” Lane asked, as he and other officers repeatedly tried and failed to find Floyd’s pulse. “Huh,” Chauvin said at that time, keeping his knee on Floyd.

The new filings include 82 pages of body-camera transcripts and a 60-page transcript of Lane’s interview with investigators. When Lane was asked if he felt either he or Chauvin had contributed to Floyd’s death, his lawyer interjected: “You’re not going to answer that.”

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, painted an image of a rookie who trusted Chauvin, a senior officer. Gray said that once Floyd was on the ground, Lane had asked twice if officers should roll Floyd on his side, and Chauvin said no.

Related: The George Floyd uprising has brought us hope. Now we must turn protest to policy

Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Lane, and the officers J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter. Lane was holding Floyd’s legs and Kueng was at Floyd’s midsection as Chauvin restricted his breathing.

An attorney for Floyd’s family did not immediately return requests for comment. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said prosecutors planned to oppose the motion to dismiss charges against Lane.

The transcripts show that Floyd was deathly afraid of the officers as they approached him. As Lane initially approached Floyd, who was in a car with two other people, Floyd repeatedly said: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“God dang man. Man, I got shot. I got shot the same way, Mr Officer, before,” he told Lane, who had his gun drawn. “Mr Officer, please don’t shoot me. Please, man.”

Later, Lane asked Shawanda Renee Hill, a witness inside the car, why Floyd was “getting all squirrelly and not showing us his hands and just being all weird like that?” according to the transcript.

“Because he’s been shot before,” Hill said. “He got a thing going on, I’m telling you, about the police.”

Kenya Evelyn and agencies contributed reporting