Eastern Illinois swimmer Jaylan Butler, taken down by police and allegedly held at gunpoint last year, says video of George Floyd‘s death brought him back to the harrowing 2019 incident that is still the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.
Floyd was a black man killed in Minneapolis last week when three policemen held him down and one, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The four involved officers have been fired and Chauvin has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The killing – which was filmed and quickly went viral – has set off protests around the world over police mistreatment of racial minorities.
Butler is an EIU swimmer who was taken to the ground by police at an Illinois rest stop last year when police mistook Butler – the only black member of the swimming & diving team at the rest stop – for a suspect they were pursuing. You can read the full background of that case (with links to our previous reporting) below, but the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against six officers who are accused of holding Butler face down in the snow at gunpoint with a knee on his back and refusing to uncuff Butler even after they realized their mistake.
On social media last week, Butler noted the similarities between his 2019 incident and Floyd’s killing in 2020.
“When I saw the video of Mr. Floyd’s death, it snapped me back to my experience,” Butler said in an Instagram post by the ACLU of Illinois. “I know how fortunate I am that my life did not end on the cold ground alongside a highway in Illinois.”
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Jaylan Butler, an EIU swimmer was held on the ground with a knee on the back of his throat after his team’s bus stopped for a break on the way back from a swim meet. “Too many have died at the hands of police who used brutal chokeholds and unnecessary force on Black men and women that were not used on others. Tragedies do not require firing a gun. Choking someone while they are handcuffed on the ground can bring the same pain and the same result – a family losing the one they love… We must honor the lives of George Floyd and others by demanding accountability, fixing these problems, and showing that Black lives truly matter.“
Butler posted a longer message to his personal Instagram, saying he broke down in tears during a weight lifting session when he had a flashback to feeling a knee pressed into the back of his neck as officers detained him.
“How is it possible to love throughout life when it seems like life doesn’t love you? How is it possible to be happy when it looks like most people hate you…for just being you,” Butler writes.
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It’s funny how things work. I just had a call last night with someone who has different views on the murder of #georgefloyd. A person with “different views” on that incident is a problem within itself. No, this isn’t a bashing of law enforcement or all cops in general. The fact of the matter is that you can do everything right and still die for just being different. Racism doesn’t always come from slurs or mistreatment; it also comes from not seeing anything wrong with situations like this. Today’s a tough day. I drove to the gym, and then it hit me. Knee pressed down on the back of his neck, till he was killed. It seemed familiar before, but I nonchalantly put the thought off. As I was working out, loading my squat bar up tears started rolling uncontrollably. I go to squat, and then a flashback comes into sight. I had a knee pressed against the back of my neck too. Then that anger rips through my heart, and I break down. How is it possible to love throughout life when it seems like life doesn’t love you? How is it possible to be happy when it looks like most people hate you…for just being you. How can it be possible to live in a world where many people don’t want you to live at all. Why is it possible to wake up, and know that since you woke up in general, you could die solely for being an African American.
Butler was a freshman on the EIU swimming & diving team on February 24, 2019, when the team was returning home on a bus from the Summit League Championships in South Dakota. The bus stopped at a rest stop just inside the Illinois border, and police who say they were in pursuit of a shooting suspect spotted Butler (the only black member of the swimming & diving team) and ordered him to the ground. The team’s bus driver, who witnessed the incident, says Butler complied, but the officers held him on the ground with his face pressed into the snow. The bus driver says two cops were pointing guns at Butler, one of them saying “if you move, I’ll blow your [expletive] head off.”
When officers realized Butler was not the suspect they were pursuing, they refused to uncuff him, searched his pockets and left him handcuffed in the back of a squad car, claiming they were arresting him for resisting arrest. That’s according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU that is still ongoing.
The police were from multiple different law enforcement agencies. As of this spring, four officers from the three departments named in the suit claim Butler resisted arrest, according to The Quad City Times. Per that report, the officers now deny that anyone placed a knee on Butler’s back while he was on the ground, though one county deputy had previously admitted to doing so. Officers have admitted that police kept Butler handcuffed even after realizing that he wasn’t the suspect they were pursuing, but deny telling Butler he was being arrested for resisting arrest.
Per The Quad City Times, the suspect the police were pursuing was 6-foot-6 and weighed 230 pounds. Butler is 5-foot-10 and weighed 160 pounds.