International demonstrations, local legislation and lasting memorials honor Houston man killed by Minneapolis police officer
At every turn, the legacy of George Floyd registers as a plea for humanity.
For his family members, they just want him to be seen as the gentle giant they called “Perry.”
For his friends and fellow athletes, they just want him to be viewed as their accomplished and affable teammate.
To artists, he’s the muse for change, memorialized in murals in Houston and across the globe.
For demonstrators, enraged that his life was slowly pressed out of him by a knee on his neck, they just want him to be seen as, simply, a man.
George Perry Floyd Jr., born in North Carolina, raised in Houston’s Third Ward, and forging a new life in Minneapolis, was honored in all his humanity with funerals in all three locations.
His pleas of “I can’t breathe” — and call for his deceased mother under the weight of an officer for eight minutes and 46 seconds on Memorial Day — have become the spark that ignited a worldwide movement.
As George Floyd was laid to rest, large-scale demonstrations demanding racial justice continued in Minneapolis, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and internationally in cities including London.
Enough is enough
In his hometown, the Houston legacy of George Floyd was commemorated so that his name will be known for decades to come.
The Bayou City’s protest that ended on the steps of City Hall drew more than 60,000 participants who memorably and historically took to the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, sent a video message to the family during Floyd’s Houston homegoing service, one day after meeting with them in person at the Black-owned Lucille’s restaurant.
Members of the fraternity of families, who have experienced losing a loved one to high-profile shootings and police misconduct, attended Floyd’s service at The Fountain of Praise church in southwest Houston. They included: Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown; Wanda Cooper Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery; Alissa Charles-Findley, the sister of Botham Jean; and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who repeated the words “I can’t breathe” in 2014 as New York City Police Department officers restrained him in a fatal chokehold. Garner’s death was also captured on a video that raised widespread attention.
“Breath is sanctified. Breath is sacred. You don’t have the right to take God’s breath out of anybody,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of National Action Network, said during his eulogy of Floyd at the Houston funeral. “The movement won’t rest until we get justice—until we have one standard of justice.”
A day later, Philonise Floyd testified about his brother in Washington before the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on racial profiling, police brutality and the loss of trust between communities and law enforcement.
“I’m here to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain. Stop us from being tired. George called for help and he was ignored,” he said in his opening statement. “Please listen to the call I’m making to you now, to the calls of our family and the calls ringing out in the streets across the world. People of all backgrounds, genders and races have come together to demand change. Honor them and honor George and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution and not the problem. Hold them accountable when they do something wrong. Teach them what it means to treat people with empathy and respect. Teach them what necessary force is. Teach them that deadly force should be used rarely and only when life is at risk. George wasn’t hurting anyone that day. He didn’t deserve to die over $20. I am asking you: Is that what a Black man is worth? Twenty dollars? This is 2020. Enough is enough.”
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats from California, were among two dozen U.S. House Democrats who introduced a police reform bill that could lead to greater accountability. The legislation was co-sponsored by dozens of representatives, all Democrats, including Houston’s U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and U.S. Rep. Al Green. The sweeping changes would ban chokeholds, officers restraining someone by kneeling on their neck and “no-knock” warrants in drug cases while including an anti-lynching measure. A companion bill has been drafted by the U.S. Senate’s two Black Democrats, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, has been tapped by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lead efforts on an alternative police reform bill in that chamber.
Local government action also has focused on banning chokeholds and reimagining police forces.
In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order including a chokehold ban as well as requiring Houston Police Department officers to give a verbal warning before discharging their weapons, mandating that officers exhaust all alternatives before using deadly force, mandating that officers act when they witness misconduct by their colleagues, forbidding firing at moving vehicles and requiring HPD to report all use of force incidents to the Independent Police Oversight Board. The proposal has been questioned as lukewarm by some activists and the Houston Police Officers’ Union issued a news release also opposing chokeholds but noting that they have been disallowed for at least four decades.
Two days after the funeral, to the dismay of activists and some council members who advocated cuts to HPD funding, the council approved a $5.1 billion city budget for fiscal year 2021 that includes $19 million more — a 2 percent bump — for the police department. The budget overall increased 1 percent. The vote happened as police reform advocates stood outside City Hall shouting “Black Lives Matter” and other chants of protest.
Nationwide calls to defund the police have prompted efforts ranging from abolishing departments to reducing law enforcement budgets so that funds can be redirected to education, health care and affordable housing.
In Minneapolis, the city council voted to replace the police department with a community-led public safety system. The Denver school board voted to end its contract with the Denver Police Department for school resource officers citing disproportionate arrests and tickets for Black children and interactions as an entry point for the school-to-prison pipeline.
Always a Lion
On June 8, 2020, the Jack Yates National Alumni Association honored Floyd, a 1993 alumnus, with a candlelight vigil on the campus of the new Jack Yates High School in Third Ward.
“It is important that we remember that George Floyd was one of us. A Lion. A JY Lion. And although, he is a fallen Lion, he will never be a forgotten Lion,” said Jeffrey L. Boney, president of the Jack Yates National Alumni Association. “We all share a deep and special bond that only the graduates of our illustrious school can relate to. … We not only condemn the horrific murder of our fellow Lion on video, we also condemn the attempts by some to try to vilify and tarnish the life and legacy of our fellow Lion. … George Floyd has impacted the world, but more importantly, his tragic death has impacted all of us as JY alums.”
There were video tributes from current Jack Yates Principal Tiffany Guillory and entertainer Debbie Allen, a JY alumna, and an inspirational live performance from Grammy-nominated gospel singer, Brian Courtney Wilson. The 1992 championship football team, including the team captains, honored their departed teammate by gathering on stage and offering reflections.
Philonise Floyd and Rodney Floyd, another brother, as well as U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump and Houston Independent School District Superintendent Grenita Lathan also offered remarks.
As darkness fell, there was a moment of silence that ended at 8:46 p.m. in symbolic memory of the eight minutes and 46 seconds the officer had his knee shoved into Floyd’s neck.
“To know that someone from Jack Yates has set the ball rolling for meaningful change not just in this country but the world? That’s nothing but pride,” Roderick Felder, a 1994 Yates graduate who owns a residential treatment center, said after the vigil. “Once a Lion, always a Lion.”
As a lasting memorial touching the next generation, the Jack Yates National Alumni Association will offer these educational grants in George Floyd’s honor:
- George Floyd Scholarship for Social Justice: A series of scholarships founded by alumni, friends, donors and volunteers providing financial assistance for students seeking higher education beyond high school and to promote human rights, social justice, police reform, fairness and equity of opportunities. This scholarship will be open to students and alumni of Jack Yates High School as well as the children or grandchildren of Jack Yates alumni. Eligible scholarship candidates will include Jack Yates seniors and students who are currently enrolled in accredited two-year or four-year universities and colleges.
- George Floyd Memorial “I Still Can’t Breathe” Recognition: An award providing financial assistance to students who are currently enrolled in schools in the Greater Third Ward area and to promote creative expression (such as visual arts, photography, video, written word, music and theatre arts) that honors the life of George Floyd, civil rights and the social justice struggle of African Americans. The competition will be open to students currently enrolled at underserved and marginalized schools in Houston, primarily focusing on students enrolled in Jack Yates High School and its feeder schools.
- George Floyd Memorial Scholarship: Comcast has agreed to commit $5,000 to support a Jack Yates graduating senior interested in mass communications. The goal of the scholarship is to support the next generation of Yates students who will pursue careers in media, communications and/or technology. Students enrolled at Jack Yates for the 2020-2021 academic year will be eligible.
Complete criteria for these scholarships and initiatives will be shared in the coming weeks on the JYNAA Facebook page (Jack Yates National Alumni Association). Anyone interested in these scholarships and initiatives are encouraged to visit www.jackyatesalumni.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information or to donate.