George Floyd, whose death at the hands of police has sparked unrest in the United States of America, has been described as a man of peace, a mentor to a generation of young men and one who opened up Christian ministry opportunities in Houston, Texas.
According to multiple international media outlets including Christianity Today, Floyd, 46, had spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward in Houston, where he was popularly known “Big Floyd” and regarded as a de-facto community leader and elder statesman, before moving to Minnesota in 2018 for a job opportunity through a Christian work programme.
He encouraged young people to break the cycle of violence among them and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project, locally known as “the Bricks”.
Patrick PT Ngwolo, pastor of Resurrection Houston, first met Floyd in 2010 when he was serving a five-year jail term for armed robbery, theft and drug possession at the Diboll Unit in East Texas. Floyd had showed up at a benefit concert they put on for the Third Ward and said he loved what the church was doing in the neighbourhood and community, and promised to stand by it. He said at the time: “If you are all about God’s business, then that’s my business.”
The church expanded its involvement in the area, holding Bible studies and helping out with groceries and rides to doctor’s appointments. Upon his release from prison, Floyd didn’t just provide access and protection in the area, he also lent a helping hand as the church put on services, basketball tournaments, barbecues and community baptisms.
He even helped to move the baptism tub, understanding that people were going to make a decision of faith and get baptised right there in the middle of the projects.
“He thought that was amazing,” said Ronnie Lillard, a Christian hip-hop artist who attended Resurrection Houston. “The things that he would say to young men always referenced that God trumps street culture. I think he wanted to see young men put guns down and have Jesus instead of the streets.”
Floyd’s legacy of peace now appears to be marred by protests – both violent and peaceful – that are spreading across the country and in parts of the world following his death. Minneapolis police said they arrested Floyd on suspicion that he had used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes from a grocery store. They tried to put Floyd in a police car when he fell to the ground, saying he was claustrophobic, according to a criminal complaint.
A bystander video captured early last week showed police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the side of Floyd’s neck and holding it there for more than eight minutes. Police had already handcuffed him and put him face-down on the ground. Floyd repeatedly said: “Please… I can’t breathe…” before losing consciousness. He was confirmed dead in hospital. Chauvin and the three other officers present have since been fired.His killing, one of many instances of unarmed black Americans dying at the hands of white police officers, galvanised the street protests. More than 1,600 people have been arrested so far in nearly two dozen cities and the National Guard has been deployed in 15 states.