George Floyd's girlfriend said, "Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate" him
George Floyd
George Floyd

The girlfriend and family of George Floyd pleaded for peace among those protesting the Minneapolis man’s death Monday at the hands of police.

Referencing the destruction and arson at the protests, Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, told the Star-Tribune of Minnesota that she wants protesters “to know that I understand their frustration. … I want people to protest in a peaceful way.”

“I am heartbroken,” said Ross, who according to the paper had been dating the 46-year-old Floyd for three years before his death.

She added, “Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate Floyd… He loved the city. He came here [from Houston] and stayed here for the people and the opportunities. … Floyd was a gentle giant. He was about love and about peace.”

The Star-Tribune reports that Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for Floyd's family, said in a statement that Floyd's relatives thank protesters “for joining them in standing for justice, [but] we also cannot sink to the level of our oppressors, and we cannot endanger each other as we respond to the necessary urge to raise our voices in unison and outrage.”

Protests over police brutality against people of color have followed the death of Floyd, a black man whose fatal encounter with police was caught on-camera, with viral footage sparking widespread outrage on social media. In the video, an officer — later identified as Derek Chauvin — is seen placing his knee firmly on the back of Floyd's neck as he lies face down on his stomach, next to a patrol car.

Floyd can be heard in the video groaning in pain while bystanders plead with Chauvin to be more gentle. Throughout the nine-minute clip, he repeatedly asks for help. He tells the officers that he cannot breathe and says that "everything hurts." The video continued until Floyd was visibly still.

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In its initial media statement after Floyd's death, the Minneapolis Police Department alleged that he was "under the influence," and that police were responding to a report of forgery.

Police also alleged that Floyd resisted arrest. But many lawmakers in Minnesota and others have questioned the police account, pointing out that no video evidence shows Floyd resisting.

George Floyd
George Floyd
| Credit: Facebook

On Tuesday, four Minneapolis police officers at the scene of Floyd's killing were fired, including Chauvin. So far, no charges have been brought.

PEOPLE has not been able to reach Chauvin or any of the officers present.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office would prosecute the case, said at a press conference that the office is still investigating the case, but said the video of Chauvin putting his weight on Floyd’s neck is “graphic, and horrific and terrible, and no person should do that.”

According to ABC News, the Minnesota National Guard has been activated to help the local fire department extinguish fires amid the protests.

Mayor Jacob Frey discussed the demonstrations on Twitter, writing that the outrage is the "result of so much built up anger and sadness – anger and sadness that has become engrained in our Black community, not because of just five minutes of horror—but 400 years."

Frey also called for local residents to "hold our communities dear" and "do right by them" by "safeguarding them and the community assets they need."

"We need to offer the radical love and compassion we all have in us. I believe in this city and I know you do, too," he wrote.