LAS VEGAS —
Jeffery Thompkins stood at a community rally with thousands of protesters this month, listening as they chanted, "I can't breathe."
They were shouting the last words of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 with an officer's knee on his neck. Floyd's final moments were captured on video by a bystander.
Thompkins, 32, said he closed his eyes, holding back tears. He had heard the words before, nearly nine months earlier. But the voice he heard back then belonged to Byron Lee Williams, his mother's fiancé.
On Sept. 5, two Las Vegas police officers arrested Williams, 50, who was Black, for riding a bicycle without a safety light. Body camera video released by police showed the officers chasing Williams, holding him on the ground, handcuffed, and kneeling on his back before lifting him upright and dragging him away. Williams repeatedly told officers, "I can't breathe."
He said it at least 17 times before he died, according to the police video.
But unlike Floyd's death — which triggered a wave of protests across the country, including in Las Vegas, and led to charges for the four Minneapolis officers involved — Williams' death drew little attention. Police released just part of the video from one of the body cameras; no bystander videos emerged. A single rally for Williams last fall drew about two dozen people. No charges have been filed against officers connected to the case.
Williams' family, community activists and civil rights advocates say it is hard to understand why Williams' death did not spark the same outrage or face the same public scrutiny as Floyd's. In part, they believe it is because Las Vegas police controlled the narrative by releasing only some of the bodycam video to the public.
Police showed Williams' family additional bodycam video, in which officers ignored his cries for help, his relatives say. (NBC News has not seen the additional video, but two of Williams' relatives and two civil rights advocates who saw it all described it similarly.)
And at the September news conference where police showed the partial video for the first time, officials emphasized Williams' criminal record, including drug and theft convictions.
Officer Aden OcampoGomez, a Las Vegas police spokesman, said that the case was still under investigation and that the department could not comment further.
"The police told the public their version of the story, how they wanted to," Thompkins said. "No one saw what we saw."
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