On Wednesday, body cam footage from two of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd were made public. The footage, which comes from the body cams of officers Thomas Lane and J. Kueng, shows Floyd pleading for his life before fellow officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Until this week, the only available footage of Floyd’s death was from the bystander’s perspective, and investigators say that this is crucial to the case at large.
On Wednesday, journalists and members of the public were able to view the video by appointment, but according to judge Peter Cahill, the footage will not be publicly released. The videos show a distraught and terrified Floyd, CBS News reports. Floyd tells the officers that he’s “not a bad guy” and that he has just recovered from COVID-19. He also says he’s been shot before after Lane pulls his gun on Floyd when he fails to make both his hands visible quickly enough. The New York Times describes Floyd as "visibly shaken, with his head down, and crying, as if he were in the throes of a panic attack" at this time.
The officers have argued that Floyd was resisting, and according to reports, the footage does show Floyd not instantly complying with the request to get in the squad car. However, it appears to be because Floyd is afraid and because, as he plainly tells the officers over and over again, he is claustrophobic. "I can't breathe. I don't want to go in there," Floyd reportedly says on the footage, according to CBS News. "Throughout the video, he never appeared to present a physical threat to the officers, and even after he was handcuffed and searched for weapons, the officers seemed to be more concerned with controlling his body than saving his life," The New York Times writes.
It is after Floyd goes into the back seat of the car and out the other side that the officers wrestle him to the ground. When Floyd says he cannot breathe, the Times reports that Chauvin responds, “takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to say that.”
From there, bystanders express concern for Floyd’s condition as he continues to say he cannot breathe, but the officers don’t appear overly concerned. Once Kueng says he cannot find a pulse, Lane and the EMTs do chest compressions and work on Floyd for several minutes instead of bringing him to the hospital in the ambulance they parked several blocks from the scene, even though CBS News reports that dispatcher audio reveals they all knew Floyd was in full cardiac arrest at that time.
The footage brings new evidence to Floyd's case, as all officers involved in his killing face charges. Body cams are often cited as a reform measure for reducing instances of police violence. But as this case shows, along with the case of Elijah McLean, who can be heard pleading with the officers who killed him, they’re not often effective in terms of violence reduction. The idea behind making police wear body cams is that they’ll be less likely to commit acts of violence if they know they are being recorded. But in reality, that’s not how things have played out.
A 2017 study by The Lab @ DC worked with the Metropolitan Police Department to design a randomized control trial of over 2,000 officers, which found that wearing body cameras had “no statistically significant effects on any of the measured outcomes.”
Meanwhile, a 2016 analysis of 10 previous studies on the efficacy of body-worn cameras also found that they had “no discernible effect” on use of force by officers. It can also be nearly impossible to get access to the body cam footage, as it is not public and police departments like to fight as hard as they can against releasing it. Data like this is the reason activists believe abolition — not reform — is the only solution to eradicating police violence.
All four officers were fired the day after Floyd’s death. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, while Lane, Kueng, and officer Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting. The cameras they wore did not stop them from killing George Floyd, though, and new footage provides a new call to action in the fight against police violence.