I know this is a viral topic right now but I don't mean to ask it simply for the sake of hype and controversy. I am genuinely curious about it. If this question isn't appropriate here, please advise me of a better place to ask it.

Here you can see the arrest of George Floyd (warning, potentially disturbing): [Link]. In the video you can see the officer lethally pinning Mr. Floyd on the ground. It seems neither of the two officers were aware that Mr. Floyd would soon die because of the pinning. Many of the bystanders were worried that Mr. Floyd was being seriously hurt, but it's hard to say if any of them knew that Mr. Floyd was in grave danger. In any case, none of the bystanders were able to interfere because either they then would be arrested, or the police might then have justifiable reason to shoot and kill them.

Question: Suppose you were a bystander and you 100% knew that if the officer (Derek Chauvin) continued to pin Mr. Floyd with his knee on the ground, Mr. Floyd would die. Is there any way you could legally interfere and save his life?

For example, would it be okay to step forward, announce something like:

"Officers I am completely unarmed. The way you are pinning that man is lethal (for XYZ reasons) and he will soon die if you continue. Please detain him in a non-lethal way."

(*wait 10 seconds)

"Please stop or I will push you off. Once again I am totally unarmed (*show hands). I only wish to prevent you from unknowingly killing this man."

(*wait 10 seconds)

"I am now going to push you off." (proceed to push the officer off Mr. Floyd)

  • Related, may answer part or all of your question: law.stackexchange.com/questions/11865/… and law.stackexchange.com/questions/27975/…. Commented May 27, 2020 at 19:50
  • We have also had several questions about self-defense against unlawful or excessive police force: law.stackexchange.com/questions/16695/…, law.stackexchange.com/questions/18414/…, law.stackexchange.com/questions/2208/…, law.stackexchange.com/questions/16141/…. Commented May 27, 2020 at 19:51
  • I haven't followed the link, but if it is indeed a video of an actual act of murder being committed, it needs a much stronger warning. That's not just potentially disturbing. Such a scene can be shocking in the truest sense of the word.
    – grovkin
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 4:10
  • I think you would probably get shot by one of the three other cops right after you pushed Officer Chauvin off of George Floyd, because they would probably consider that assaulting an officer.
    – user30507
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 1:33
  • Instead of interfering with the arrest, you can take your camera, film the scene, clearly visible to the officer, and tell the officer that if the victim gets hurt, you will do whatever you can to get the officer prosecuted. Before you do this, check your mirror to see what your skin colour is, and whether you are dressed like a person who can afford a good lawyer, and use that information to estimate your personal risk. On the other hand, one person filming may encourage others to do the same, and that reduces the personal risk for everyone.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


It is premature to judge the particular case because the facts are not all available. But we can address the general principles. The Model Penal Code 3.04(2)(a) sets out the general principles clearly. A person has the right to self-defense against unlawful force. But, the use of force is not justifiable to resist an arrest which the actor knows is being made by a peace officer, although the arrest is unlawful. But more specifically under (b)

The use of deadly force is not justifiable under this Section unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat

However, there is a further condition that force is not justifiable if

the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating or by surrendering possession of a thing to a person asserting a claim of right thereto or by complying with a demand that he abstain from any action which he has no duty to take

Then finally, §3.05 says that this goes for people using force in defense of others.

The short version is that the common law right to resist illegal arrest has been supplanted by a statutory requirement to submit to police authority, for example in California and New York.

In Ewumi v. Georgia, defendant was illegally arrested and physically defended himself, which resulted in a battery charge and conviction. The battery charge was overturned because the arrest was illegal ab initio. If one resisting an authorized arrest, where an officer's force is likely to result in unjustifiable great bodily harm, the question is whether a reasonable person would find it necessary to resist in self-defense. It is unusual for the courts to find that to be the case.

Minnesota law says that

reasonable force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other's consent when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist:

(1) when used by a public officer or one assisting a public officer under the public officer's direction:

(a) in effecting a lawful arrest

Other sections say that a person who is not a public officer may use force to effect an arrest, or, "(3) when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person". Being arrested by the police is not an offense, and none of the other justifications for use of force apply.

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