Attorney defends Missouri teen over 'I can't breathe' video
KANSAS CITY — An attorney is defending a Missouri woman who withdrew from the University of Missouri over a video in which a giggling teen mutters "I can't breathe" as another teen presses a knee into her chest, saying it was "innocent horseplay" and was not mocking the killing of George Floyd.
Attorney G. Taylor Wilson described news articles and social media posts about the video as "false attacks against high school students who in no way were commenting on Mr. Floyd or tragedies that have come to be symbolized by the words, 'I can't breathe,'" the Kansas City Star reported.
The lawyer said the video in which three teens can be heard laughing was taken on May 27, two days after Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck during an arrest. A bystander's video captured Floyd pleading with the officer, saying he could not breathe.
Wilson said that other videos the teens made that same night show them roughhousing and engaging in similar behavior.
The video initially was posted on Snapchat, where content disappears after 24 hours, but another Lee's Summit teen shared it on Twitter. The Lee's Summit school district confirmed that the teens involved with the video are recent graduates. The district said it is investigating.
The would-be University of Missouri student rescinded her enrollment after the school began a civil rights investigation. Interim Chancellor Mun Choi said in a statement Monday that the university received "numerous emails and social media posts from members of our community and the public who felt hurt and dehumanized by the video."
Leaders of two other Missouri universities where the teens involved had planned to attend also condemned the video. None of the universities identified the teens.
"Perhaps the intent of the video can be debated. Its impact cannot," Clif Smart, president of Missouri State University, said in a blog post. "It demonstrates a disturbing lack of empathy and respect."
In the end, Smart said, the student withdrew from the university.
Northwest Missouri State President John Jasinski wrote in a statement that "the individuals involved exercised horrible judgment" but that because the school is a public institution and supports free speech, its role is to educate.
Nearly five years ago, the University of Missouri was embroiled in student protests over unanswered complaints of racism on the Columbia campus. And in the past year, the Lee's Summit district was the center of racial controversy as well, over efforts to hire a firm to do diversity training for teachers and staff. The district's first black superintendent resigned in July, citing "philosophical differences" with the school board. Diversity training did begin there last year.