George Floyd: an ordinary man who became a global symbol

Walkers in the streets chanted: “Say his name!” for almost a year. Last week, a prosecutor solemnly delivered it in a Minneapolis courtroom.

“His name was George Perry Floyd Jr.”

Ordinary man Floyd, 46, was a father, son and brother whose excruciating murder below the knee of a Minneapolis cop turned him into a symbol of the vulnerability of black Americans to the overwhelming pressure of the racism.

A video of a bystander of the incident sparked protests around the world. Millions of people across the country watched the live broadcast of Derek Chauvin’s trial. Tuesday, after deliberating for 10 hours, a jury found Chauvin guilty of murder.

“We watched Derek Chauvin make the 9:29 am decision to steal the life of George Floyd,” says Melina Abdullah, one of the co-founders of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter. The global protests following her murder, she said, embodied a collective refusal to accept her life as disposable.

Floyd grew up in Houston, Texas, loved banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, and was nicknamed “Big Floyd” because of his size. He lost his job during the pandemic and struggled with opioid addiction.

It is also now the “Icon of a revolution”, the title of the painting of nearly four yards of his face by artist Peyton Scott Russell that stands at the intersection where he was killed. Visitors stack flowers in front of the Cup Foods convenience store, where Floyd is said to have used a fake $ 20 bill, prompting a police call, and a nearby statue of a clenched fist is thrown into the sky. A human outline on the street is drawn with angel wings.

Floyd is both an individual, says Duane T. Loynes Sr, professor of urban and African studies at Rhodes College, and “a symbol for America to see what people mean when it comes to Black Lives Matter. . . Got this insensitive system that really doesn’t care [black people] flourishing, it really doesn’t care about their life.

He was born in 1973 to George Floyd Sr and Larcenia “Cissy” Jones Floyd, one of five siblings. He was young when the family moved to Cuney Homes, a housing project in Third Ward, a historically black neighborhood in Houston.

He has always had a close bond with his mother, his younger brother Philonise Floyd testified at the trial. “He was a grandmother’s boy,” he said. “He showed us how to treat our mother and how to respect our mother.”

“Perry,” as his family called him, used to make sure his siblings had clothes and snacks for school, Philonise Floyd said. The brothers played Nintendo video games together like Double dribble and Tecmo bowl. (George usually won.) The house was filled with marks on the wall where he had measured his height, which would eventually grow to over six feet.

“He wanted to be taller all the time because he loved sports,” Philonise said.

Floyd played basketball and American football in high school and won a scholarship to attend community college, now known as South Florida State College. He left after two years and attended Texas A&M University in Kingsville, but left without graduating to return to Houston.

He was arrested several times on drug and theft charges between 1997 and 2005, reported The Associated Press. In 2007, he was charged with armed robbery, pleaded guilty two years later and was sentenced to five years in prison.

When he was released, he became involved with Resurrection Houston, a new church set up in his old neighborhood. He introduced the pastor to the residents, who Told Houston TV station KHOU that “much of my ministry that I was able to do at Cuney Homes was because of George Floyd”.

But Floyd left for Minneapolis in 2014 in search of a job to help his daughter, born a year earlier, and a new start. He worked as a security guard in the Salvation Army, where a colleague, Michelle Seals, called him nice. He later drove trucks and was a bouncer at the Conga Latin Bistro, but lost his job when Covid-19 closed bars and restaurants.

Mary Ginns, a friend from high school, told NPR last year, Floyd had told him once that he was “going to change the world”.

“We were like, ‘We know you are,’” she said. “You are going to be in the NBA. . . But God put something in him to see him in a different way. He probably didn’t know at the time what he was saying, but that’s exactly what he did. He changed this world.

Abdullah says that “George Floyd’s name will always evoke a time when the world opened up and some people have used it as a time to create change.”

How much will change is an unanswered question. Recently, demonstrators took to the streets again to protest the murders of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo and Ma’Khia Bryant – three names out of dozens of people killed by police across the country during the three weeks of testimony . President Joe Biden urges lawmakers to consider the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban certain police restraint techniques and seek to improve police training.

But even though Floyd is recognized as a symbol, remembering his humanity is important, says Anthony Pinn, professor of religion at Rice University in Houston. “Part of the meaning of the request to ‘say your name’,” he said. “To talk about his humanity, to remember that he is more than what happened to him.”

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