The Black Officer Who Detained George Floyd Had Pledged to Fix the Police

The Black Officer Who Detained George Floyd Had Pledged to Fix the Police

MINNEAPOLIS — There were two Black men at the scene of the police killing in Minneapolis last month that roiled the nation. One, George Floyd, was sprawled on the asphalt, with a white officer’s knee on his neck. The other Black man, Alex Kueng, was a rookie police officer who held his back as Floyd struggled to breathe.

Floyd, whose name has been painted on murals and scrawled on protest signs, has been laid to rest. Kueng, who faces charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s death, is out on bail, hounded at the supermarket by strangers and denounced by some family members.

Long before Kueng was arrested, he had wrestled with the issue of police abuse of Black people, joining the force in part to help protect people close to him from police aggression. He argued that diversity could force change in a Police Department long accused of racism.

He had seen one sibling arrested and treated poorly, in his view, by sheriff’s deputies. He had found himself defending his decision to join the police force, saying he thought it was the best way to fix a broken system. He had clashed with friends over whether public demonstrations could actually make things better.

“He said, ‘Don’t you think that that needs to be done from the inside?’” his mother, Joni Kueng, recalled him saying after he watched protesters block a highway years ago. “That’s part of the reason why he wanted to become a police officer — and a Black police officer on top of it — is to bridge that gap in the community, change the narrative between the officers and the Black community.”

As hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the police after Floyd’s killing on May 25, Kueng became part of a national debate over police violence toward Black people, a symbol of the very sort of policing he had long said he wanted to stop.

Derek Chauvin, the officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, has been most widely associated with the case. He faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter; Kueng and two other former officers were charged with aiding and abetting the killing. At 26, Kueng was the youngest and least experienced officer at the scene, on only his third shift as a full officer.

The arrest of Kueng, whose mother is white and whose father was from Nigeria, has brought anguish to his friends and family. “It’s a gut punch,” Joni Kueng said. “Here you are, you’ve raised this child, you know who he is inside and out. We’re such a racially diverse family. To be wrapped up in a racially motivated incident like this is just unfathomable.”

Two of Alex Kueng’s siblings, Taylor and Radiance, both of whom are African American, called for the arrests of all four officers, including their brother. They joined protests in Minneapolis.

In a Facebook Live video, Taylor Kueng, 21, appeared with the head of the local NAACP to speak of the injustice that befell Floyd, acknowledging being related to Alex Kueng but never mentioning his name.

Alex Kueng’s sister Radiance posted a video of Floyd’s final minutes on Facebook. “Just broke my heart,” she wrote. In an interview, she said that as a Black man, her brother should have intervened. She said she planned to change her last name in part because she did not want to be associated with her brother’s actions.

“I don’t care if it was his third day at work or not,” she said. “He knows right from wrong.”

29 Comments

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