Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday commended Louisiana residents for peacefully protesting the “egregious” death of George Floyd, the African American man who recently died at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement.
Floyd’s death on May 25, which several bystanders recorded on their cell phones, has sparked dozens of protests across the country. In the videos, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” and calling out for his mother before he becomes still with a police officer’s knee pressed down on his neck while others stand by.
The four Minneapolis officers who were involved in the incident have since been fired, while the one who used his knee to hold Floyd down was arrested and later charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The sight of an African American being subjected to police brutality from a white officer has led to numerous demonstrations across the country, with regular citizens and politicians alike calling for reforms to the justice system.
The ongoing protests, which have turned destructive in some cities, led President Donald Trump on Monday to threaten military force if governors and local officials don’t do enough to stop the rioting and looting.
According to CNN, Trump described the governors’ response to the civil unrest as “weak” in a video conference call earlier Monday.
“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people,” Trump said, according to audio of the call obtained by CNN.
While rioting has occurred in large cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia over the last week, protests in Louisiana have been mostly peaceful.
Protests in Louisiana, most notably in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, began over the weekend and continued into Monday night. More than 1,000 people gathered near New Orleans Town Hall on Monday, one day after hundreds of marchers went to the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
During his COVID-19 press conference, Edwards, whose father was a sheriff, thanked Louisiana residents for protesting in a way he described as “almost entirely peaceful and non-violent.”
He also condemned the actions of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes before Floyd, 46, later died in a hospital.
“Our citizens are appropriately expressing their concerns and exercising their First Amendment rights,” Edwards said. “I want to thank everyone for keeping their focus on the issues of concern.
“Obviously what we saw captured on the video… was egregious. It was very far below what’s appropriate and acceptable. I don’t think any reputable member of society or law enforcement would disagree with that assessment or find that his actions were not acceptable.”
When asked about his response to Trump calling governors “weak,” Edwards admitted he was on the conference call but that he wouldn’t “engage in that,” though he did say he thought the president was directing his message to other states “with more problems than here in Louisiana.”
The governor also recalled similar protests held in Baton Rouge in 2016 after the shooting death of Alton Sterling and the measures the state has since taken to “improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement.”
“Since 2016, we’ve made some strides here in Louisiana,” he said. “We’ve reformed the criminal justice system in a partisan way. We’ve also worked to improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement… [which] has changed the way it trains officers.
“Still we know it’s not perfect and we have more work to do, and we’re committed to making sure we continue that work.”
Edwards continued to encourage people “to not engage in violence or property damage” and added that his office will continue to work with local officials and federal officials to monitor the situation and stay in front of developments. He also asked people “to focus on the changes we need to bring in our society.”