Province of St. Albert the Great, USA

I Can't Breathe!

George Perry Floyd (1973-2020)

(updated and corrected June 13, 2020)

On Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2020, around 8:00 PM, an African-American man, George Floyd (whom everybody just called “Floyd” but whose family called “Perry”), age 46, went with two others to buy cigarettes at a well-known local store, Cup Foods, owned by Palestinian-American, Mahmoud “Mike” Abumayyaleh, at E. 38th St. & Chicago Avenue South, Minneapolis. Before they leave the store, the 17-year old clerk detects that Floyd had given him “fake bills”, but Floyd leaves anyway. 

The clerk with two others (employees also?) decides to go out to Floyd's car, still parked out front on 38th, to ask for his phone number and get the cigarettes back, all to no avail. So, the clerk goes back into the store and calls 911, although owner Mike has trained his employees to never call 911 unless there is violence. The transcript of the 911 call reveals that the young clerk explains the situation of the forged bills and identifies Floyd as a tall, bald guy who is “awfully drunk”, “not in control of himself” and “not acting right”. (The transcript, attached below, is interesting in itself as it reveals an individual with “English-as-a-second-language” trying to explain to a 911-dispatcher who needs lots of clarification). It's quite possible that Floyd himself did not know it was a counterfeit bill or where he got it, thus ignored the clerk's complaint and attempt to retrieve the cigarettes. Floyd had been a regular customer at Cup Foods for over a year, even paying his phone bill at the store. The young clerk had worked at Cup Foods for only 6 months, however, and may not have met Floyd before. We don't know. It was Memorial Day, when nothing is normal. 

Mural in teh neighborhood
A scene from the neighborhood

Cup Foods has a great reputation with everyone in the Powderhorn neighborhood, which has many African-Americans. Coincidentally, Risen Christ Catholic Grade School, a great dual-immersion school sponsored by 5 parishes, including our Dominican parishes, St. Albert the Great and Holy Rosary, is located in Powderhorn area, just 3 blocks from where all of this happened.

At any rate, at first two police arrive and first go into Cup Foods and then over to Floyd's car, still parked on 18th out front of the store, where Floyd is in the drivers' seat, along with a man and woman passengers, who are taken out and have to stand aside for further questioning. A series of video footage emerges of the ensuing arrest and subsequent death of Floyd, taken by a surveillance camera operated by a nearby business, Dragon Wok, as well as from a vehicle parked behind Floyd, and several videos from bystanders' phones, that went viral on the Internet. The videos of the police body cameras who were directly involved have not yet been released. (A warning of graphic violence to those who view these videos). 

As I view them, it does seem to me that Floyd is “not acting right” and reluctant to get out of his vehicle. What is Floyd being arrested for is not clear: counterfeit bills, possession of drugs, resisting an officer...? One policeman reaches for his gun or mace briefly. Floyd is large and strong, yet seems to slump as he stands up, dragging his feet as he walks to the curb. He slumps down awkwardly against the wall. And he does not walk “normal “for appearing to be a strong man, as he crosses the street to the police car, where he then stumbles and falls down at the police car door. Footage is sparse here but in one scene, it appears Floyd is already in the police car, but struggling. Soon there are 4 police officers, and something has obviously gone wrong, as they drag Floyd back out of the police car again. 

Floyd eventually ends up on the pavement at the back of the police car on the street, with three police on top of his body, face down: one with his knee on George's neck (Derek Chauvin); another with both knees on his back (J. Alexander Kueng); the other holding down his legs (Thomas Lane). A fourth police officer (Tou Thao) stands guard, does nothing, performing what citizens often call “the Blue Shield” of silence and protection of his partner police against enraged bystanders. Officers Chauvin and Lane are white.  Kueng is African-American.  And Thao is Asian-American.  They are all from Minneapolis Police Department District #3, which is located at Hiawatha and Lake streets, which is in my parish, Holy Rosary. This knee-choke hold is legal to use in Minneapolis.

Despite the outcries by citizen bystanders, the police do not get off Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, although after about 4 minutes it is clear that Floyd is lifeless. During all this time, Floyd has said “please” and cried out “I can't breathe” about 15 times. The police tell him he needs to get into the car and he replies that he will, but he can't. One policeman is heard saying something about “drugs”. As he is dying, Floyd ultimately calls for his “Mama” who passed away May 30, 2018. (Was Floyd already distraught on this second anniversary?). 

Emergency reports say that there was no pulse at all in the ambulance. CPR and cardiac shock did not bring a response. Apparent to anyone watching, he seemed dead long before the ambulance arrived, although official reports that say he died at the hospital. Floyd's family lawyer, Ben Crump, says that “the ambulance was really his hearse”. Independent forensic pathologists determined the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxia” from pressure on a man who otherwise had no medical illnesses. Hennepin County Medical Examiner released its autopsy report calling it “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restrain, and neck compression”. They also revealed toxicology reports of fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine usage. Even so, as the lawyers say “but for” asphyxia, Floyd would be alive today. 

The immediate outcry over Floyd's homicide by the police has sparked protests, vigils, rioting and looting, not only in Minneapolis and in hundreds of cities in the USA, but around the world. Less those social uprisings get all the attention, I would like to write about George Floyd now, and write more about those reactions to his killing in another article later. 

George Floyd was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on October 14,1973, but then his mother moved to Houston, Texas, when he was still a toddler and where he grew up in the Cuney Homes housing projects of the Third Ward. He was a football tight end at Jack Yates High School, playing in the 1992 state championship. At 6 feet 6 inches, he got to be known as “the Gentle Giant”. He played basketball in South Florida State College from 1993-1995 and on a club basketball team called “To God Be the Glory”. His lifelong friend, Christopher Harris, said he left sports for hip hop and rap music in Houston's “Screwed Up Click” with a booming voice known as “Big Floyd”. Floyd was one of 5 children, with a large extended family, all of whom have spoke out against his killing, and asking for justice without violence. He had 5 children, including the youngest, Gianna, 6 years old, whose mother, Roxie Washington, verified that Floyd was a good father.

Floyd tried to be a good Christian, using his leadership skills to help the local pastors get folks to come to church, as Pastor Patrick P.T. Ngwolo told Christianity Today. He once taped a video to youth against gun-violence saying “I've got my shortcomings and my flaws and I ain't better than nobody else. But, man, the shootings that's going on, I don't care what 'hood you're from, where you're at, man. I love you and God loves you. Put them guns down." Yet, he had his shortcomings and weaknesses, while trying to survive life in “The Bricks”, as they called the housing projects. Floyd had several run-ins with the law over theft and possession of drugs, and eventually a 5-year prison sentence for armed robbery in 2009 for entering a pregnant woman's home, holding her at gunpoint, while searching for drugs and money, according to court records. 

A friend, Christopher Harris, had already moved to the Twin Cities as part of a church discipleship program that offered men a route to self-sufficiency by changing their environment and helping them find jobs. So when Floyd got out of jail, he decided to turn his life around and start over, by moving to Minneapolis in 2014, at the cost of leaving his beloved 'hood and family. 

Floyd started as a security guard at the Salvation Army's Harbor Light Center, the biggest shelter for the homeless in Minneapolis. He also got a job as a truck driver and as bouncer at Conga Latin Bistro. “Always cheerful,” Jovanni Tunstrom, the bistro’s owner, said. “He had a good attitude. He would dance badly to make people laugh. I tried to teach him how to dance because he loved Latin music, but I couldn’t because he was too tall for me. He always called me ‘Bossman.’ I said, ’Floyd, don’t call me Bossman. I’m your friend.’” Last year Floyd worked as a part-time security guard at El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub, which is located 6 blocks from our Dominican priory on Lake Street, and where police officer, Derek Chauvin, coincidentally worked as a part-time guard also. It is not clear yet if they knew each other. Unfortunately, Floyd was unemployed for several weeks and looking for a new job, since all restaurants and bars had to be closed due to COVID-19. 

His girlfriend of 3 years, Courtney Ross, met Floyd at the Salvation Army Center where he first began as a security guard, when he came over to console her and pray with her when she was distressed over a relative. She said he changed her life that day and they later fell in love. She said: “He stood up for people, he was there for people when they were down, he loved people that were thrown away...We prayed over every meal, we prayed if we were having a hard time, we prayed if we were having a good time.” 

A public Minneapolis memorial service will be held Thursday, June 4, from 1 to 3 p.m. at North Central University, 1400 Elliot Avenue. In addition, a public North Carolina memorial service will be held Saturday, June 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters, 10225 Fayetteville Road, Raeford, NC. And in Houston, a public visitation will be held Monday, June 8, from noon to 6 p.m. at the Fountain of Praise, 13950 Hillcroft Ave. A private funeral will follow on Tuesday, June 9, in Houston.

May he rest in peace.
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Here are some links and videos of Floyd's life and death, and some resulting protests:

New York Times compilation of Floyd's arrest and death:
https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000007159353/george-floyd-arrest-de…

Bystanders videos of Floyd's death:
https://real923la.iheart.com/content/2020-05-27-new-surveillance-shows-…

Washington Post compilation of Floyd's arrest and death:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMGUAHBFmjk

Independent autopsies report (begins at 16:47):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYOVF0WaG3E

Transcript of 911 call:
https://www.kare11.com/article/news/local/george-floyd/transcript-of-91…

Family and friends of Floyd:
https://www.kare11.com/article/news/local/george-floyd/everybody-loved-…

George Floyd pleads for end of gun violence on video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUaeV_8RXxY


Courtney Ross, Floyd's girlfriend:
https://www.the-sun.com/news/902549/george-floyd-girlfriend-courtney-ro…

Obituary of George Floyd:
https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/wellandtribune/obituary.aspx?n=george…


jerstookey@gmail.com
St. Albert the Great Priory
Minneapolis, Minnesota

(top photo is of Fr. Jerry Stookey, OP in front of a mural of George Floyd)