In the aftermath of the extrajudicial killing of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, social media users spread a photograph online that they claimed showed one of the officers alongside United States President Donald Trump.
One iteration of the photo, posted by author Don Winslow, has been shared more than 1,500 times on Twitter. In the post Winslow asks, “Hey Twitter… Is that Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis cop who choked #GeorgeFloyd to death on video in the front row of a Trump MAGA rally? Is that the man who killed #GeorgeFloyd laughing three feet from @realDonaldTrump? Did this murder ‘Make America great again?'”
Is that Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis cop who choked #GeorgeFloyd to death on video in the front row of a Trump MAGA rally?
Did this murder “Make America great again?” pic.twitter.com/Xnu96Q3GDH
— Don Winslow (@donwinslow) May 27, 2020
But while Chauvin might fit the description, he is not in the photograph, which was taken at an October 2019 campaign rally the president held in Minneapolis. Both Minneapolis Star-Tribune journalist Matt DeLong and local police union head Bob Kroll have confirmed that Chauvin was not one of the union members shown alongside the president.
Kroll, however, can be seen in the photograph on the far left wearing a “Cops for Trump” shirt.
Chauvin was fired from the department — along with fellow officers identified by the Star-Tribune as J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao — after Floyd’s death on May 25 2020; by then Chauvin had gained added notoriety after he was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd gasped that he could not breathe. The officers reportedly detained Floyd for trying to pass a fake $20 bill at a convenience store, then handcuffed him. Floyd died at a local hospital.
“The world needed to see what I was seeing,” said Darnella Frazier, the witness who videotaped and posted the fatal encounter on Facebook. The footage has been watched more than 1.1 million times on the platform.
Police have said that all of the officers who stopped Floyd were wearing body cameras at the time of the incident but as the independent news outlet Unicorn Riot noted, photographs of Chauvin taken at the time do not show any visible body camera.
Floyd’s killing was the impetus for a protest, during which police used rubber bullets and tear gas on demonstrators, which brought about criticism from both Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and other observers. Many noted that the police response to a demonstration against extrajudicial killings was markedly different to protests engineered online and attended by white people carrying firearms in order to paint measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 during a global pandemic as “tyranny”:
Note the difference in police response to the George Floyd protests vs. the armed anti-lockdown protests. pic.twitter.com/bRlXImiIeT
— The Recount (@therecount) May 27, 2020
After Chauvin was fired from the department, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called on Chauvin to be arrested and charged in connection with Frey’s death during a news conference on May 27 2020.
“There are precedents and protocols sitting in the reserves of institutions just like this one that would give you about a thousand reasons not to do something, not to speak out, not to ask so quickly, and I’ve wrestled with that more than anything else over the last 36 hours, with one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” he asked. “If you had done it or I had done it we would be behind bars right now, and I cannot come up with an answer to that question.”
Chauvin was arrested on May 29, 2020. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that he was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and that an investigation into the other officers at the scene leading up to Floyd’s death was ongoing.
The photo involving the Trump rally is not the only instance of Chauvin being misidentified; a separate photo that spread online placed him side-by-side with a man wearing a hat saying, “make whites great again.” But as journalist Luke O’Brien noted on Twitter, the man in the hat is really “con man, troll, and prankster” Jonathan Lee Riches:
The man on the right isn’t Derek Chauvin. He isn’t a cop. He is Jonathan Lee Riches, a notorious con man, troll and prankster, not to mention the “world’s most litigious man.” Riches injects himself, indefensibly, into tragic news events, even if it means going to prison. https://t.co/Y66mXihrYB
— Luke O’Brien (@lukeobrien) May 27, 2020
Update May 29, 2020 11:38 am PST Updated to reflect the arrest of Derek Chauvin on May 29, 2020.