Two members of Floyd's family, who were in Little Rock speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission's “Get Out To Vote” event, described Floyd as someone who in trying to do better in his life.
George Floyd has become a household name as the world witnessed Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneel on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying "I can't breathe…”
Floyd became motionless during the final minutes of restraint on May 25, a moment his family will never forget. Two members of Floyd’s family, who were in Little Rock speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission’s “Get Out To Vote” event, described Floyd as someone who in trying to do better in his life.
In 2014, he moved to the Minneapolis area, finding work as a truck driver and a bouncer. In 2020, he lost his security job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Perry came to Minnesota for a new start. He was excited about it. I still remember that voice, ‘auntie, auntie, I’m here,’” said Angela Harrelson, Floyd’s aunt, who he stayed with when he was a young boy with his late mother. “He had a hard road.”
Harrelson described Floyd as a spiritual being and hard worker that was trying to change his life and the life of others.
Floyd was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina to George Perry and Larcenia "Cissy" Jones Floyd, Harrelson’s sister. Floyd was raised in Cuney Homes in the third ward of Houston, Texas, a historic black neighborhood known as Bricks, and one of the poorest areas of the city.
Floyd played football and basketball throughout high school and college. He held several jobs. He was an aspiring hip hop artist. He was a mentor in his religious community.
His past reveals a conviction of eight crimes between 1997 and 2005, accepting a plea in 2009 and serving four years in prison. He was paroled in January 2013 becoming more involved with Resurrection Houston, a Christian church and ministry, where he mentored young men.
“Even though he did well in Houston, he was involved in the community, helping people but sometimes the community you try to uplift and inspire will swallow you,” said Harrelson. “He needed to get away for a change because the environment was tough. He had hard times like everyone does but he was making a comeback.”
Floyd’s comeback was cut short and a nation of souls mourned with the family. His death sparked a national movement that the family overwhelming received in love but in other cases, because of Floyd’s past, they also received much scrutiny.
“Whatever your past, is your past but here’s the thing,” said Harrelson as her eyes watered up. “He still did not deserve to die like that. That’s the whole thing. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds there was nothing humane about that act. There was no mercy, there was not anything.”
Harrelson said because of her nephew’s past, some people use that to justify his death. She also realizes even though he didn’t deserve to die the way he did, this was all a part of God’s plan.
“It’s hard to describe when you’re going through it,” said Harrelson. “It happened because in the middle of a pandemic, people were home and saw what we saw. Anybody with a heartbeat of compassion was going to be moved.”
Harrelson said the world that was traumatized together, grieved together and can now heal together fighting for change.
“The sad thing is he had to lose his life but I do realize that great things happen sometimes when they lose their life or go to prison like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela,” said Harrelson. “That had to happen for great things to happen. It just happened to be a family member to do it.”
Floyd's death triggered demonstrations and protests around the world against police brutality, police racism, and lack of police accountability.
One week ago, the Minneapolis City Council banned chokeholds and required police officers to intervene against the use of excessive force by other officers, and voted an intent to restructure the police department as a new community-based system of public safety.
The Minneapolis Police Chief canceled contract negotiations with the police union and announced plans to bring in outside experts to examine how the union contract can be restructured to provide transparency and flexibility for true reform.
“The whole world was moved and I feel like laws were forced to be changed because transparency was opened up before our eyes,” said Harrelson. “Awareness, transparency -- they cannot deny anything now. That’s how God works. When he set something up, you cannot deny it. That is why you are seeing the changes that are taking place.”
Harrelson adds that laws are being changed, statues are being knocked down and confederate flags are coming down because of the power of the people.
A first cousin of Floyd, Paris Stevens, who is usually calm and collective, said the death of her cousin has ignited her own voice.
“When this happened I decided I’m going to speak out now, this is our time,” said Stevens. “I want to keep the conversation alive.”
Walking the walk, Stevens said her mission is not only to bring awareness around the world but to stress the importance of voting.
“We want to try to get everyone to vote, especially the Generation X and Millennials,” said Stevens, who said knowing your government officials on a local level is vital. “It’s important to know who your councilmen are and do they have the same views that you do. That way you can make an important and informed decision about voting. We have to have the right people in places.”
The family states Floyd’s death was not in vain as they will continue to be the instruments in keeping his legacy alive. Uniting together one community at a time, Stevens wants this to not just be a moment in time but an everlasting movement for a promising future.
“We are going to keep fighting for justice for all. We’re not going to stop because enough is enough, this is our time,” said Harrelson. “We’re going to make sure to follow through and it’s not just the Floyd family. It’s the whole world. We have almost every person walking the walk and making footsteps trying to get police departments to change and reform and it’s happening right now.”
Stevens said she is speaking out for change and hopes what transpired with her cousin will motivate others to not be afraid to use their voice.
“He would want us to speak up. Speak up for what you know is right and when you see someone doing the wrong thing, you have a responsibility to tell them to stop,” said Stevens. “You cannot stand by and let someone die. You cannot be afraid. Speak up, don’t be afraid and let people hear your voice. What you have to say is important.”
Harrelson said when she thinks about her nephew, who laid there with a knee on his neck while the other three police officers let him die, it saddens her that not one of them stood up for right to save his life.
The family is hoping that all around the world, everyone will use this opportunity to make a difference and not give up if change doesn’t happen right away, because even until Floyd’s last breath, he stayed in the fight.
“He was a determined person. He did not give up. Even when he was lying on that ground saying I can’t breathe, I’m in pain, he was fighting with his words,” said Harrelson. “He fought until he couldn’t fight anymore. He was someone who would not give up and he would not want us to give up on him.”