Two women pose for a selfie next to a street poster depicting George Floyd with angel wings and holding a stop traffic sign against racism, in a street of Barcelona. AFP
Michael Arceneaux, The Independent
George Floyd died in Minnesota, but we share the same home of Houston, Texas.
That’s why the very second it was revealed that Floyd went to Jack Yates High School (with alums like Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad) in Houston’s Third Ward neighbourhood (yes, the one Beyoncé is talking about), I immediately knew who he was. I went to James Madison Senior High School in the Hiram Clake area of Houston. We were high school rivals, but pretty much everyone on the Southside of Houston is familiar, you know? And the more I learn about Floyd’s life, the more familiar his life feels.
And it makes me hurt all the more.
Floyd’s savage killing at the hands of those punk Minneapolis police officers already felt relatable because I, too, am a black man, so I, too, have to worry if I am the right black man on the wrong day.
But now I know George Floyd is actually “Big Floyd” from the Screwed Up Click, a hip-hop group led by legendary Houston musician DJ Screw. If you are not familiar with “screwed and chopped” music, I forgive you for missing the past two decades of popular culture, but Floyd was an architect of a sound from our city that went on to be tapped by some of the biggest names of music. And if you want to know more about my personal proximity to this culture, the store dedicated to DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click is less than five minutes from my mama’s house. The person running it is Screw’s cousin, who I graduated from high school with. I know these folk, but more than anything, I know how hard life has been on each of us by virtue of being born black. The racism. The classism. The harassment from police officers – many of whom look just like us but don’t appear to always play for the same team (#notallcops, I know). This country tries to break us in so many ways, but one beautiful facet about black folks is that, in spite of all of that, we create art and, in doing so, change this world into a place a little less insufferable.
To know that part of Floyd’s history makes me seethe with even more rage about its ending.
George Floyd’s life deserved more value than it was given this week, by virtue of him being a person. He also worked as a truck driver and as a bouncer. As a matter of fact, a former Minneapolis club owner told KSTP that Floyd and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin – the one whose knee ended up on Floyd’s neck – both worked as security for her club up to the end of last year and had overlapping shifts. While the club owner explained that she doesn’t know if the two ever spoke to each other, when I look at the video of Chauvin using his knee to take the life out of Floyd’s body as he lay in agony calling for his dead mama, I can’t help but wonder if it might have been personal.
It doesn’t matter whether Chauvin knew Floyd personally, though – not really. What matters is what Chauvin understood to be true: by virtue of being black, George Floyd’s life was valued less than his. In fact, when Chauvin puts on that police uniform and badge, he knows that more often than not, people like him can kill people like George Floyd without consequence.
The only reason Chauvin may get his just due this time round is because the frustrated citizens of Minneapolis have finally channelled their frustrations into fiery displays.
I was sickened by the smugness of Hennepin County prosecutor Michael Freeman, who fixed his mouth to say we should not “rush to charge” in the George Floyd case because of Freddie Gray, another black man killed by police officers. It was only after the people took to the streets in rebellion that we got even a slight indication that something might actually change.
During a press conference on Friday, Minnesota governor Tim Walz (D) said the unrest that has destabilised Minneapolis and St Paul this week is the result of “generations of pain, of anguish” over racism in policing.
“Their voices went unheard, and now a generation of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world,” Walz noted. “And the world is watching.” So they are, but sadly, they’ve watched so many men like police officer Derek Chauvin killing unarmed black men like George Floyd, who family members have described as a “gentle giant” and “loving person” that cared deeply for his daughter. It’s hard to get excited about the prospect of justice, even though Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with murder.
None of this is enough to alleviate my worries that at any given moment on any given day, I could die as easily from the American disease of racism – and one of its strongest symptoms, law enforcement – as I could from a once-in-a-century virus. The fact that George Floyd’s life and mine differed in decades but were still lived within many of the same miles makes a reality I already knew to be true even harder to stomach.
More than anything, it makes me feel every bit of the fire that set the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct station ablaze. So many have taken issue with the actions of the protesters, but not the legalised torture they and people like me are subjected to. Feel however you want about this rebellion, as is your right, but I will say this: if you’re not doing anything to help prevent me and others from becoming the next George Floyd, you are no less an arsonist.
Rest well, George. And I’m so sorry.
It is fitting that the white US police officer charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter of an African-American in Minneapolis bears the French family name of Chauvin. The name has morphed into “chauvinist” meaning bigot over the decades since a soldier called Nicolas Chauvin was honoured as a super patriot by the Emperor Napoleon for loyal service during his multiple military campaigns.
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