NAACP calls for federal investigation after Black man dies telling police ‘I can’t breathe’


The NAACP has called for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the death of a 53-year-old Black man who died after repeatedly telling police officers he couldn’t breathe as they arrested him. 

Frank Tyson died after Ohio police officers confronted him in a bar at the American Veterans (AMVETS) post in Canton on April 18. 

In a letter to Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, NAACP’s president and CEO Derrick Johnson said he was “deeply troubled by this horrific tragedy.”

“Without federal intervention, the police officers may not be held accountable for their actions,” Johnson said in the letter, first obtained by NBC News. “We seek justice and accountability.”

A spokesperson for the DOJ confirmed to The Hill that the department received the letter, but declined further comment at this time.

Video footage of the encounter showed that as Tyson was handcuffed, one of the officers placed his knee on Tyson’s upper body. Tyson proceeds to tell officers, “I can’t breathe,” but officers don’t appear to react. 

After officers sit Tyson up, he stops moving and appears unresponsive. First responders administered CPR and multiple doses of Narcan before Canton Fire Department medics arrived. 

Tyson was eventually transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m.

Tyson’s death is reminiscent of the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than 9 minutes. 

Floyd, too, told officers during his arrest, “I can’t breathe.” 

“Frank Tyson should be alive today,” Johnson posted Wednesday on the social platform X. “Nearly 4 years after the tragic death of George Floyd, we are forced to bear witness to yet another unarmed Black man cry out for air at the hands of law enforcement.”

Canton Police Department identified Beau Schoenegge and Camden Burch as the “two primary officers” on April 18. The two, assigned to the traffic bureau, are on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. 

Bobby DiCello, an attorney for Tyson’s family, told NBC News that the Canton Police Department disregarded Tyson’s humanity.

“It is outrageous that in 2024 an officer put their knee on anyone and that when he last spoke and said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ the last words he may have heard were, ‘You’re fine, eff you,’” DiCello said. “He may not have been able to discern that. That’s where the Canton officers said the quiet part of George Floyd’s death out loud. They’re saying the quiet part out loud. You can do it by your actions or you could tell it to their face.”

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