Before he died after being pinned for minutes beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee, George Floyd was suffering the same fate as millions of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic: out of work and looking for a new job.
Floyd moved to Minneapolis from his native Houston several years ago in hopes of finding work and starting a new life, said Christopher Harris, Floyd’s lifelong friend. But he lost his job as a bouncer at a restaurant when Minnesota’s governor issued a stay-at-home order.
On Monday night, an employee at a Minneapolis grocery store called police after Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
In widely circulated cellphone video of the subsequent arrest, Floyd, who was black, can be seen on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back while Officer Derek Chauvin presses him to the pavement with his knee on Floyd’s neck. The video shows Chauvin, who is white, holding Floyd down for minutes as Floyd complains he can’t breathe. The video ends with paramedics lifting a limp Floyd onto a stretcher and placing him in an ambulance.
Four officers were fired Tuesday; on Wednesday, Mayor Jacob Frey called for Chauvin to be criminally charged. Frey made no mention of the other three officers, who were also at the scene.
Police say Floyd was resisting arrest, but Chauvin’s lawyer has declined to comment and the other officers have not been publicly identified.
Floyd, 46, grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, one of the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods, where he and Harris met in middle school. At 6 feet, 6 inches, Floyd emerged as a star tight end for Jack Yates High School and played in the 1992 state championship game in the Houston Astrodome. Yates lost to Temple, 38-20.
Donnell Cooper, one of Floyd’s former classmates, said he remembered watching Floyd score touchdowns. Floyd towered over everyone and earned the nickname “gentle giant.”
“Quiet personality but a beautiful spirit,” Cooper said. His death “definitely caught me by surprise. It’s just so sad, the world we’re living in now.”
They’re tired of seeing black men die constantly. I see why people are doing it. I don’t want them to lash out, but they have pain, “Philonise Floyd said during the interview.” I want everything to be peaceful, but I can’t make everybody be peaceful.
“To the police, I want them to get everything right. Start doing your job the right way … I haven’t been seeing it. Black lives matter, too.”