Today is the anniversary of the murder and tragic death of George Floyd.
George Perry Floyd Jr., October 14, 1973 – May 25, 2020. was an African American man murdered by police during an arrest after a store clerk suspected he may have used a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis.
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Derek Chauvin, one of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
After his death, protests against police brutality, especially towards black people, quickly spread across the United States and globally. As he was dying, he said “I can’t breathe” which was used as a rallying cry during subsequent protests.
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Floyd grew up in Houston, playing football and basketball throughout high school and college.
He was a hip-hop artist and served as a mentor in his religious community. Between 1997 and 2005, he was convicted of eight crimes.
He served four years in prison after accepting a plea bargain for a 2007 aggravated robbery in a home invasion.
In 2014, he moved to the Minneapolis area, residing in the nearby suburb of St. Louis Park, and worked as a truck driver and bouncer. In 2020, he lost his job as a truck driver, and then his security job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The City of Minneapolis settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Floyd’s family for $27 million. Chauvin was convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter on April 20, 2021.
The trial of the other three officers at the scene of his death is scheduled to begin on August 23, 2021.
Floyd was born on October 14, 1973, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to George Perry and Larcenia “Cissy” Jones Floyd. He had four siblings.
His great-great-grandfather Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr. was born as a slave but acquired his freedom in the Civil War; while Stewart was in his 20s, he acquired 500 acres (200 ha) of land but lost it to white farmers who used legally questionable maneuvers that were common at the time in the South.
When he was two, after Floyd’s parents separated, his mother moved with the children to the Cuney Homes public housing, known as Bricks, in Houston’s Third Ward, a historically African-American neighborhood.
Floyd was called Perry as a child, but also Big Floyd; being over six feet (183 cm) tall in middle school, he saw sports as a vehicle for improving his life.
Floyd attended Ryan Middle School, and graduated from Yates High School in 1993. While at Yates, he was co-captain of the basketball team playing as a power forward. He was also on the football team as a tight end, and in 1992, his team went to the Texas state championships.
The first of his siblings to go to college, Floyd attended South Florida Community College for two years on a football scholarship, and also played on the basketball team. He transferred to Texas A&M University–Kingsville in 1995, where he also played basketball before dropping out. At his tallest he was 6 feet 6 inches and by the time of his autopsy he was 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) tall and weighed 223 pounds.
Floyd returned to Houston from college in Kingsville, Texas, in 1995 and became an automotive customizer and played club basketball.
Beginning in 1994, he performed as a rapper using the stage name Big Floyd in the hip-hop group Screwed Up Click.
The New York Times described his deep-voiced rhymes as “purposeful”, delivered in a slow-motion clip about “‘choppin’ blades’ – driving cars with oversize rims – and his Third Ward pride.”
The second rap group he was involved in was “Presidential Playas” and he worked on their album Block Party released in 2000.
An influential member of his community, Floyd was respected for his ability to relate with others in his environment based on a shared experience of hardships and setbacks, having served time in prison and living in a poverty-stricken project in Houston.
In a video addressing the youth in his neighborhood, Floyd reminds his audience that he has his own “shortcomings” and “flaws” and that he isn’t better than anyone else, but also expresses his disdain for the violence that was taking place in the community, and advises his neighbors to put down their weapons and remember that they are loved by him and God.
Between 1997 and 2005, Floyd served eight jail terms on various charges, including drug possession, theft, and trespass.
In one of these cases the arresting officer was later investigated for a pattern of falsifying evidence, related to the Pecan Park raid, leading the District Attorney of Harris County, Texas to request a posthumous pardon for Floyd in 2021.
In 2007, Floyd faced charges for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon; according to investigators, he had entered an apartment by impersonating a water department worker and barging in with five other men, then held a pistol to a woman’s stomach and searched for items to steal.
Floyd was arrested three months later during a traffic stop and a 7-year-old victim of the robbery identified him from a photo array.
In 2009, he was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal and was paroled in January 2013.
After Floyd’s release, he became more involved with Resurrection Houston, a Christian church and ministry, where he mentored young men and posted anti-violence videos to social media.
He delivered meals to senior citizens and volunteered with other projects, such as the Angel By Nature Foundation, a charity founded by rapper Trae tha Truth.
Later he became involved with a ministry that brought men from the Third Ward to Minnesota in a church-work program with drug rehabilitation and job placement services.
A friend of Floyd acknowledged that Floyd “had made some mistakes that cost him some years of his life,” but that he had been turning his life around through religion.
In 2014, Floyd moved to Minneapolis to help rebuild his life and find work.
Soon after his arrival, he completed a 90-day rehabilitation program at the Turning Point program in north Minneapolis. Floyd expressed the need for a job and took up security work at Harbor Light Center, a Salvation Army homeless shelter.
He lost the job at Harbor Light and took up several other jobs. Floyd hoped to earn a commercial driver’s license to operate trucks.
He passed the required drug test and administrators of the program felt his criminal past did not pose a problem, but he dropped out as his job at a nightclub made it difficult to attend morning classes, and he felt pressure to earn money. Floyd later moved to St. Louis Park and lived with former colleagues.
Floyd continued to battle drug addiction and went through periods of use and sobriety.
In May 2019, Floyd was detained by Minneapolis police when an unlicensed car he was a passenger in was pulled over in a traffic stop. Floyd was found with a bottle of pain pills. Officers handcuffed Floyd and took him to the city’s third police precinct station.
Floyd told police he did not sell the pills and that they were related to his own addiction. When Floyd appeared agitated, officers encouraged him to relax and helped calm him down, and they later called an ambulance as they grew worried about his condition. No charges were filed in connection with the incident.
In 2019, George Floyd worked security at the El Nuevo Rodeo club, where police officer Derek Chauvin also worked off-duty as a security guard.
In 2020, Floyd was working part time as a security guard at the Conga Latin Bistro club, and began another job as a delivery driver. Floyd lost the delivery driver job in January after being cited for driving without a valid commercial license and for being involved in a minor crash.
He was looking for another job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Minnesota, and his personal financial situation worsened when the club closed in March due to pandemic rules. In April, Floyd contracted COVID-19, but recovered a few weeks later.
George Floyd Memorial on May 27, 2020
On May 25, 2020, Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street.
As seen in a witness’s cellphone video, two other officers further restrained Floyd and a fourth prevented onlookers from intervening as Floyd repeatedly pleaded that he could not breathe.
During the final two minutes Floyd was motionless and had no pulse, but Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck and back even as emergency medical technicians arrived to treat Floyd.
Police had been called by a grocery store employee who suspected that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill.
The medical examiner found that Floyd’s heart stopped while he was being restrained and that his death was a homicide, caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression”, though fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use may have increased the likelihood of death.
A second autopsy, commissioned by Floyd’s family, also found his death to be a homicide, specifically citing asphyxia due to neck and back compression; it ruled out that any underlying medical problems had contributed to Floyd’s death, and said that Floyd being able to speak while under Chauvin’s knee does not mean he could breathe.
On March 12, 2021, the Minneapolis city council approved a settlement of $27 million to the Floyd family following a wrongful death lawsuit.
Chauvin was fired and charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin was found guilty on all three murder and manslaughter charges on April 20, 2021, but he has yet to be sentenced.
On May 12, 2021, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill allowed for the prosecution to seek a greater prison sentence for Chauvin after finding that he treated Floyd “with particular cruelty.”
Memorials and legacy
After Floyd’s death, protests were held globally against the use of excessive force by police officers against black suspects and lack of police accountability. Calls to both defund and abolish the police have been widespread.
Protests began in Minneapolis the day after his death and developed in cities throughout all 50 U.S. states and internationally.
The day after his death, all four officers involved in Floyd’s death were fired and, on May 29, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges were brought against Chauvin.
Several memorial services were held. On June 4, 2020, a memorial service for Floyd took place in Minneapolis with Harlem’s Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy. Services were planned in North Carolina with a public viewing and private service on June 6 and in Houston on June 8 and 9. Floyd was buried next to his mother in Pearland, Texas.
Colleges and universities which have created scholarships in Floyd’s name included North Central University (which hosted a memorial service for Floyd), Alabama State, Oakwood University, Missouri State University, Southeast Missouri State, Ohio University, Buffalo State College, Copper Mountain College, and others.
Amid nationwide protests over Floyd’s killing, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin made a $120 million donation to be split equally among Morehouse College, Spelman College and the United Negro College Fund. The donation was the largest ever made to historically black colleges and universities.
Street artists globally created murals honoring Floyd. Depictions included Floyd as a ghost in Minneapolis, as an angel in Houston, and as a saint weeping blood in Naples.
A mural on the International Wall in Belfast commissioned by Festival of the People (Féile an Phobail) and Visit West Belfast (Fáilte Feirste Thiar) featured a large portrait of Floyd above a tableau showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while the three other officers turn their backs and each covers his eyes, ears, or mouth in the manner of the Three Wise Monkeys (“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”).
One Houston mural is on the side of Scott Food Mart in the Third Ward, while the other is on the property of The Breakfast Klub restaurant in Midtown. A childhood friend of Floyd’s said that Floyd would never “have imagined that this is the tragic way people would know his name.”
A GoFundMe account to support Floyd’s funeral costs and benefit his family broke the site’s record for number of individual donations.
By June 6, murals had been created in many cities, including Manchester, Dallas, Miami, Idlib, Los Angeles, Nairobi, Oakland, Strombeek-Bever, Berlin, Pensacola, and La Mesa. The mural in Manchester was defaced with graffiti. Manchester Police investigated the incident.
Beyond the creation of the mural, Floyd’s killing has also brought attention to the presence of institutional racism within the United Kingdom. Protest graffiti has also been put up throughout Los Angeles, offering phrases such as “I Can’t Breathe”, “Say Their Names”, and others. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has also been used often in the outpouring of protest regarding Floyd’s death.
The phrase has been especially popular on social media platforms. Since Floyd’s death, there has also been a global outcry for memorials commemorating bigoted individuals to be demolished.
A bill proposed by US Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, the George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, was designed to reduce police brutality and establish national policing standards and accreditations.
In addition to the work of lawmakers, there has been an outcry from leaders in varieties of fields. Researcher Temitope Oriola, author of “How police departments can identify and oust killer cops,” wrote the piece intending to prevent more deaths mirroring Floyd’s.
Oxiris Barbot, former Commissioner of Health of the City of New York, wrote in an article addressing COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd that Floyd’s death was “a cumulative injury on top of the sustained acuity of health inequities playing out in horrifying details through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Religious leaders have also been called upon to address violence taking place against Black Americans.
The length of time that Chauvin was initially believed to have had his knee on Floyd’s neck, eight minutes 46 seconds, was widely commemorated as a “moment of silence” to honor Floyd.
Floyd’s death was featured prominently in The Economist, with the magazine running an obituary, multiple articles, and numerous reader letters, ultimately making the legacy of his death its June 13 cover story. It wrote that his legacy “[is] the rich promise of social reform.”
On September 18, 2020, the Minneapolis City Council approved designating the section of Chicago Avenue between 37th and 39th Streets as George Perry Floyd Jr. Place, with a marker at the intersection with 38th Street where the incident took place. The intersection had been the location of a makeshift memorial that emerged the day after his death.
On October 6, 2020, Amnesty International delivered a letter with one million signatures from around the world to the US Attorney General William Barr to demand justice for George Floyd. The human rights advocacy group demanded that the police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd be held accountable. The NAACP, which has already published a criminal justice fact sheet, wrote in response to Floyd’s death a statement voicing their support for the protests taking place demanding justice for George Floyd.
On May 21, 2021, Bridgett Floyd gave a $25,000 check from the George Floyd Memorial Foundation to Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina to be used for scholarships. On the same day, the city declared May 25 George Floyd Jr. Day.
Floyd was the oldest of five siblings and had five children, including two daughters (aged 6 and 22 at the time of his death) and an adult son. He also had two grandchildren.
We remember the man, the martyr, and the American.
Read more about George Floyd.