Criminal Justice

Death Of George Floyd Brings Renewed Scrutiny To Spate Of Houston Police Shootings

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his department would start releasing videos of certain police interactions, on the heels of a spate of police shootings and the death of former Houstonian George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.

A chain portrait of George Floyd is part of the memorial for him, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, near the site of the arrest of Floyd who died in police custody Monday night in Minneapolis after video shared online by a bystander showed a white officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Thursday said his department will begin releasing video on social media of confrontations with citizens when officers make arrests, amid growing public unrest over a spate of shootings in recent weeks.

Civil rights activists in Houston have been calling for the department to release arrest videos, after six people were shot and killed by Houston police officers in the last five weeks.

Now Acevedo said the department will do that for any such arrests going forward, to add more context to police interactions.

The decision also comes days after a video went viral showing George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, dying while being restrained during an arrest. In the video, Floyd is heard telling police he can’t breath, as a white officer plants his leg into his neck. The four officers involved have been fired.

Acevedo criticized the officers involved, and said such incidents make police officers look bad. Releasing video going forward, he said, would add much-needed transparency.

“Every time we have an encounter with a person that is in mental distress.. That’s armed, that has a knife, we’re gonna start putting those incidents out to add context to the good, bad and ugly,” Acevedo said. “But we need to put out the good, too.”

The death of George Floyd has drawn national attention since the 46-year-old was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on Monday. 

This undated handout photo provided by Christopher Harris shows George Floyd.

Floyd, who grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, was a star multi-sport athlete at Jack Yates High School, talented enough to get a basketball scholarship from Florida State University. He didn’t finish college, but pursued his other passion: making music back in Houston under the name Big Floyd, even collaborating with the late Texas hip-hop legend DJ Screw.

A few years ago, Floyd moved to Minneapolis to start a new life. And childhood friend Milton Carney, at a vigil in Houston’s Emancipation Park on Tuesday night, told Houston’s KRIV that he was doing just that.

“He had just called me,” Carney said. “He had just gotten his first piece of property…He was gonna be alright.”

At a Houston City Council meeting Wednesday, several council members gave emotional statements about Floyd’s death.

“What in the hell makes you think it’s appropriate to put your damn knee on someone’s neck?” asked Council member Jerry Davis. “Are you that fearful of us, black males? I just don’t get it.”

In a joint statement, Mayor Sylvester Turner and State Sen. John Whitmire, the senate criminal justice committee chair, called Floyd’s death “clearly avoidable.”

“What happened in Minneapolis amplifies the events surrounding any loss of life of a person involving police officers anywhere in the country and further damages the relationship between the police and the community, and specifically communities of color,” the statement read.

“That is why we must uniformly speak out against what occurred in Minneapolis as totally unjust and unacceptable.”

The latest shooting in Houston happened Monday, after police say they responded to a call of an armed man waving a gun outside of his home.

Acevedo has asked Houstonians to consider each shooting individually, arguing they each have their own specific circumstances. He has also said that, while going forward video of such incidents would be released to the public, his department would only release body camera footage of the recent shootings after the department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office finish their investigations, and the families of the victims have reviewed it first.

Attorney Randall Kallinen, who represents the family of one of the shooting victims, argued on Houston Matters with Craig Cohen Wednesday that without the public release of body camera footage from those shootings, there won’t be any real transparency to the process.

“It is hard to argue with the video,” Kallinen said. “You can’t say that this happened or that happened. What’s on the video is what’s on the video. And yet we’ve had six shootings within about a one-month period. And not one single one of the videos has been released to the public.”

Additional reporting by Paul DeBenedetto and Michael Hagerty

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