Family and friends of father-of-two George Floyd have described his death as "senseless" and "before his time", as outrage grows over the African-American man's treatment at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted across the Minnesota city and the Minneapolis mayor wants criminal charges laid against officer Derek Chauvin, captured in video of the arrest pinning the cuffed man for nine minutes with his knee.

Police were called after a grocery store employee claimed Mr Floyd had tried to pay using a counterfeit US$20 note.

WHO WAS GEORGE FLOYD?

The 46-year-old lived in St Louis Park, Minneapolis and had been working as a security guard at Conga Latin Bistro before it was temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. He died on Monday night.

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According to the Houston Chronicle, he is survived by two daughters including six-year-old Gianna who lives in Houston with her mother, Roxie Washington.

"People mistake him because he was so big that they thought he was always a fighting person but he was a loving person … and he loved his daughter," Washington said at a prayer vigil in Emancipation Park.

George Floyd. Photo / AP
George Floyd. Photo / AP

She said he left the city for Minneapolis around 2018 and worked as a truck driver before his job as a bouncer.

Bistro owner Jovanni Thunstrom, who also leased an address to "Big Floyd", said he last saw him a week ago when he came by to pay his rent.

"Watching this video makes tears come out, my body is full of emotions, of questions without answer," he wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.

He said Floyd was "a very good friend" and described his death as "plain murder".

"We live in a society of law and order, police are suppose(d) to serve and protect, I didn't see none of this," Mr Thunstrom said.

"I will like to keep on writing, but my vision is blurry, from the tears coming out of my eyes."

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Cumpleaños Ruth Thunstrom

Posted by Conga Latin Bistro on Sunday, 26 May 2019

Floyd's former girlfriend Christina Dawson said they remained on friendly terms and she spent Monday night "hoping it wasn't him" in the video.

"When I heard him say 'I can't breathe,' I knew who it was," she told the Star Tribune newspaper on Tuesday.

"We finally reach out to his family. Sure enough, it was him.

"I'm so sorry this happened to his children, family and friends. That king did not have to die before his time."

Mr Floyd has also been remembered by Christian hip-hop artists on Twitter.

"He'd help us when we had church at the basketball court in the middle of the hood," musician Corey Paul said.

"When we did community outreach in the hood he was a 'person of peace'. He wanted to see us come together as a people."

Lifelong friend Jack Harris said the gifted athlete and hip-hop artist grew up in Houston's Third Ward and the pair met in middle school.

Mr Floyd, who graduated in 1993, was charged in 2007 with armed robbery in a home invasion and in 2009 was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal, according to court documents.

Mr Harris said Mr Floyd moved to Minneapolis several years ago in the hope of finding work and starting a new life.

"He was looking to start over fresh, a new beginning," Mr Harris told the Associated Press.

"He was happy with the change he was making."

A man uses fencing to strike the Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct building during a protest in Minneapolis. Photo / AP
A man uses fencing to strike the Minneapolis police 3rd Precinct building during a protest in Minneapolis. Photo / AP

Mr Harris said the way Mr Floyd died – repeatedly telling police "I can't breathe" in the recording – was "senseless".

"He begged for his life, he pleaded for his life," he said.

Former Jack Yates High School classmate Donnell Cooper, who still lives in Texas, told television station KHOU 11 he had been a "great man" and will be a "missing pillar" to the alumni.

"Just to see his life being taken on national TV is just devastating," he said.

He said Mr Floyd was a "gentle giant" at six feet and six inches and played on the state champion football team.

"Quiet personality but a beautiful spirit," Mr Cooper said.

"It's just so sad, the world we're living in now."

HOW DID GEORGE FLOYD DIE?

The police report regarding the alleged "forgery" stated Mr Floyd was asked to get out of his car before he "physically resisted officers".

"Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress," it states.

"Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Centre by ambulance where he died a short time later."

But in an incident report, the fire department said an off-duty firefighter witnessed the "end of the struggle" and saw Floyd "go from struggling to unresponsive on the ground while handcuffed and subdued" by police.

It states medics then worked on an "unresponsive, pulseless male" and "delivered one shock by their monitor".

Floyd's sister, Bridgett Floyd, told NBC's TODAY they were taking his death "very, very hard".

"It's very heartbreaking, it's very disturbing to our peace," she said.

A protester runs away from where police deployed chemical irritants near the 3rd Precinct building in Minneapolis. Photo / AP
A protester runs away from where police deployed chemical irritants near the 3rd Precinct building in Minneapolis. Photo / AP

"We're just doing the very best that we can and making sure that we do the right thing, do what he would want us to do."

She said she wants the responding officers to be charged and "put in jail for murder".

"They murdered my brother, he was crying for help," she said.

"Regardless of what he'd done, we all have our faults, we all make mistakes, nobody's perfect.

"But I believe justice will be served, I have enough faith to stand on it."

Family lawyer Benjamin Crump said it was "a nonviolent crime met with this kind of violent, lethal, excessive force" and the officer had knelt on Floyd's neck for nine minutes.

"You hear the people even pleading with him, 'Please, get your knee off his neck, have some humanity, this is a human being'," he said.

"We have to send a message with this case."

Philonise Floyd, who set up a fund for funeral costs, said: "No one took any action to save my brother's life."

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE?

The Minneapolis Police Department on Wednesday identified the four officers, who have all been fired, as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Keung.

Mayor Jacob Frey said the termination of their employment was "the right call" and wants Chauvin to be criminally charged.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensive is "investigating the circumstances surrounding an incident".

Information is being shared with the FBI which is conducting a separate, federal civil rights investigation at the request of the city's police department.

US President Donald Trump said it was a "very sad day", later adding on Twitter that he has asked for the investigation to be "expedited".

"We're going to look at it and we're going to get a report tomorrow when we get back. And we're going to get a very full report," Trump said while touring the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Wednesday.

Luz Maria Gonzalez, who shared chicken wings with Floyd at his work a few months ago, was among thousands of people who gathered on Tuesday night at the scene where he was arrested.

"I was having nightmares that I was being choked," she told TIME.

"I couldn't sleep, I just kept having dreams of him dying and then I couldn't breathe."

A second day of demonstrations by thousands on Wednesday night escalated into chaos with police deploying tear gas and projectiles.

The mayor said parts of the Lake Street neighbourhood had "become unsafe".

"Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy," he said on Twitter.

"We are asking for your help in keeping the peace tonight."