By Kim Barker
Minneapolis, Minnesota – There were two black men at the scene of the May police murder that has roiled the United States. One, George Floyd, was lying on the asphalt, with a white officer’s knee around his neck. The other black man, Alex Kueng, was a rookie police officer holding him by the back while Floyd struggled to breathe.
Floyd, whose name has been painted on murals and scrawled on protest signs, has been buried. Kueng, who faces charges of complicity in Floyd’s death, is free on bail and is harassed by strangers at the supermarket and denounced by members of his family.RELATED
Long before Kueng was arrested, he had struggled with the issue of police abuse of black people, and joined the Department in part to help protect people close to him from police assault. He argued that diversity could compel change in a long-time accused of Minneapolis Police Department.
He had seen one of his brothers arrested and, in his opinion, mistreated officers of the Sheriff. He had defended his decision to join the police force, saying he believed it was the best way to repair a broken system. He had disagreed with friends about whether public demonstrations could actually improve things.
“He was saying, ‘Don’t you think that needs to be done from the inside?'” Recalled his mother, Joni Kueng, who he said after seeing protesters block a highway years ago. “That is part of the reason he wanted to become a police officer – and a black officer on top of everything else – to bridge that gap in the community and change the narrative between officers and the black community.”
Derek Chauvin, the officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, has been more widely associated with the case. He faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree wrongful death; Kueng and two other former officers were charged with complicity in the murder. At 26, Kueng was the youngest and least experienced officer on the scene, only on his third shift as a fully empowered officer.
The arrest of Kueng, whose mother is white and whose father was from Nigeria, has generated anguish for his friends and family.
Two of his brothers, Taylor and Radiance, both African-American, called for the arrest of the four officers, including his brother.
Throughout his life, Kueng oscillated between two worlds, black and white. He was raised by his mother, with whom he lived until last year. Her father was absent. As a child, he sometimes asked for brothers.
Joni Kueng, who lived in north Minneapolis, registered with an African American adoption agency. When Alex was 5 years old, Joni brought home a baby that had been abandoned in a hospital. Alex soon asked for a sister; Radiance came when he was 11 years old. Taylor and a younger brother arrived in 2009, when Alex was about 16.
Kueng taught math classes in the schools his children attended, where the students were often mostly Hmong, African American, and Latino. His classmates described Alex Kueng as everyone’s friend, an expert in juggling a soccer ball and a defender against bullies.
Darrow Jones, a black man, said he met Kueng on the playground at age six. When Jones’s mother died in 2008, Joni Kueng provided her with accommodation for periods of up to a month.
Alex Kueng believed he had the ability to bridge the gap between the black and white worlds, Jones said. Kueng’s decision to become a police officer caused a breakup in the friendship. After Kueng became a cadet, Jones went from seeing him twice a month to maybe three times a year. In December, Kueng graduated from the police academy.
For most of his field training, Chauvin, with 19 years in his position, was his training officer. Chauvin lengthened Kueng’s instructional period, feeling he was meeting too often with another student, Thomas Lane, when answering calls, rather than handling them unaided, Kueng said. But on May 22, Kueng officially became one of about 80 black officers in a police force of nearly 900.
On May 25, Kueng and Lane, assigned as a couple despite the fact that they were both both fresh out graduates, were the first officers to answer a call to report a fake $ 20 bill used at a local store. They found Floyd outside in a car.
After they failed to place Floyd in the back of a patrol, Chauvin and Tou Thao, another officer, arrived on the scene.
As Chauvin dug his knee into Floyd’s nape, Kueng was holding Floyd from behind, according to prosecutors.
Chauvin kept his knee there as Floyd repeated “I can’t breathe,” “Mom,” and “Please.” Kueng did nothing to intervene, prosecutors say. After Floyd stopped moving, Kueng checked Floyd’s pulse. “I couldn’t find it,” Kueng told the other officers.
All four officers have been fired and face 40 years in prison. Kueng, who was released on bail on June 19, declined to be interviewed.
A day after Floyd’s death, Jones learned that Kueng was one of the officers who had been present. “I am very sad and very disappointed,” Jones said. “Many of us believe that he should have intervened and should have done something.
“It is very difficult. Because I have those feelings and I will not deny it. But even though I feel sad about what happened, he still has my unwavering support. Because we grew up together and I want it, “added Jones.
Eric Killelea contributed reporting to this article.