Three Years On From George Floyd: How We Honour His Legacy
Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Zoe Daniels (They/Them) explores the man behind the headlines, what happened to Floyd and how we can continue to fight for racial justice.
Content warning: racism, police brutality, racial violence
George Floyd behind the headlines
Before the murder of George Floyd reignited the Black Lives Matter movement, like many of us, he was just a person trying to navigate and make ends meet in the middle of a pandemic.
Floyd had moved to Minneapolis from Houston in search of a new life and felt optimistic about his decision. But during the pandemic, when the Minnesota Governor issued a stay-at-home order, he was let go from his job as a Security Guard at a restaurant.
Floyd, aged-46 at the time of death, grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, one of the city’s predominantly Black neighbourhoods. At 6 feet and 6 inches, Floyd quickly became a star football player, earning the nickname “gentle giant” and going on to play the 1992 state championship game in Houston Astrodome.
One of his former classmates described him as having a “quiet personality but a beautiful spirit.”
According to The Guardian, in 2007, Floyd’s life took a turn when he was charged with armed robbery in a home invasion in Houston and, in 2009, was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal.
We don’t know how Floyd became involved with the home invasion, but we do know that poverty and financial problems often lead people to do harmful actions such as robberies and theft.
After Floyd got out of prison, he made a tremendous effort to get back on track to a life he was proud of. He moved to Minneapolis to start anew and landed a job working security at a Salvation Army store. He later started working two jobs, one driving trucks and another as a security guard at Conga Latin Bistro, where he was known as “Big Floyd.”
The Restauranter, Jovanni Tunstrom, described him as “always cheerful” and 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. He always called me Bossman. I said, ‘Floyd, don’t call me Bossman. I’m your friend'."
What happened to George Floyd?
On May 25th 2020, George Floyd was murdered by four Minneapolis police officers. One officer in particular, Derek Chauvin, led the charge by pressing on Floyd’s neck with his knee for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
The murder was captured on film by Daniela Frazer, a Black girl who was 17 years old at the time of Floyd’s death. Frazer’s recording would later be used as crucial evidence in a case that saw Chauvin charged and convicted for the murder of George Floyd.
In 2022, former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were sentenced to more than three years for violating Floyd’s civil rights. Less than a week earlier, their co-defendant Thomas Lane received two and a half years in prison.
According to CNN, on May 1st 2023, a Minnesota judge found Thao guilty of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter for keeping bystanders back in the killing of George Floyd. Thao could be sentenced to 41-57 months in prison with a recommended sentence of four years.
As reported in Mapping Police Violence, on the day George Floyd was murdered, six other people were murdered by police in the US. In 2020, police in the US killed 1,144 people, leaving only 18 days where police did not kill a person.
What’s happened since George Floyd?
At first, people worldwide responded by sharing black squares across social media platforms. Many also responded by sharing the video of George Floyd being murdered without a content warning, with many Black people describing it as trauma porn.
Black Public Media defines trauma porn as “media stories depicting the inhumane and often exploitative treatment of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) individuals by police and/or [w]hite civilians.”
Although Floyd’s murder sparked protests across the world, subsequently re-igniting the Black Lives Matter movement when it comes to the police’s treatment of the Black community, not much has changed.
Many organisations released statements reflecting on the murder and racial injustice in their countries. Still, many of these statements and the actions that followed signified performative activism, as they declared Black Lives Matter publically but refuse to engage in actionable change.
In the year after Floyd’s murder, 1,163 people were killed by police in the US. Two hundred seventy-four of those people were Black. In 2022, the figure dropped to 1,237 people killed by police, with an increase to 276 Black people.
According to World Population Review, the US has the highest number of police shootings than any other developed country (every other country in the top 10 is a developing country) and the world's highest rate of private gun ownership.
Three years after Floyd's murder, Minneapolis Police have approved reform changes in their department. This came after the Minnesota Department of Human Rights sued them.
Black people "were stopped and searched at a higher rate than white people by every force in England and Wales" between April 2020 to March 2021.
Black children are 11 times more likely to be strip-searched than white children in England and Wales.
In the UK, in the past few years, several reports investigating racial injustice in the UK have been released. The government commissioned two of these—one under former Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. This report declared that the UK was not institutionally racist, which several activists, social commentators, academics, and lawyers, amongst many others, denounced.
The other report, the Casey Review, was commissioned under current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, investigating the Metropolitan Police, which led to the force being declared institutionally racist and homophobic.
The UK government’s response has been to double down on its racism, with several pieces of legislation being proposed and made into law diminishing the rights of racialised people and other communities who experience marginalisation.
This has been exemplified through the following bills:
- Illegal Migration Bill
- Police, Crime and Courts Act 2022
- Public Order Act 2023
- Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021
However, although the government are rapidly adopting fascist policies, progress is being made by ordinary people and organisations. There has been an increase in community groups and community action. Schools have chosen to adopt anti-racist policies and reject government recommendations which sought to discourage educational bodies from teaching critical race theory and anti-capitalist thinking.
Concerning the transfer of power, more and more organisations are adopting diversity and inclusion practices more sustainably, being open about their racism and confronting it head-on. However, many of these organisations haven’t gone far enough in their anti-racism practice to inspire systemic and institutional change.
What can we do to honour George Floyd’s memory?
George Floyd didn’t sign up to be a martyr. He was forced into that position when Chauvin chose to murder him, and a bystander caught it on camera. This is a crucial distinction when establishing how we honour him. Because justice for Floyd is not achieved through the criminal justice system, punitive punishment won’t bring Floyd back. However, it has brought some relief to Floyd’s family.
We need to consider that the police officers who murdered Floyd may not find compassion within the walls of a prison, and there is no evidence to suggest that prisons rehabilitate people. The majority of people who have faced imprisonment tend to re-offend.
In light of this, a way of honouring Floyd is not to let our fight for justice run dry. We must continue advocating for systemic and institutional change, and we do this by committing to racial justice every single day. There are three steps you can take today to honour Floyd’s memory:
Donate to organisations based in Chicago, where George Floyd lived
Here are some suggestions:
Assata’s Daughters s a grassroots intergenerational collective of radical Black women located in the city of Chicago. Supporting young Black women, femmes and gender non-conforming people. A core mission for the group is the abolition of prisons, police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and anti-Blackness.
E.A.T (Equity and Transformation)
Equity and Transformation (EAT) is a non-profit, community-led organisation founded by and for post-incarcerated people. E.A.T was established in 2018 with the mission to uplift the voices and power of Black Chicagoans engaged in the informal economy: the diversified set of economic activities, enterprises, jobs, and workers that are not regulated or protected by the state.
Good Kids Mad City-Englewood
Good Kids Mad City is a youth-driven group allowing young people to address the violence they face in their communities. Good Kids Mad City creates healing spaces for young people impacted by trauma and also works to fill the gap in resources for youth.
Donate to organisations based in the UK and support their work
The 4Front Project
The 4Front Project is a youth organisation that supports people to reimagine peace and justice - bringing healing to the forefront.
Healing Justice London
Healing Justice London is working for and with communities surviving state and systemic oppression, and they build towards futures rooted in dignity, safety and belonging and free from intimate, interpersonal and structural violence. Their practice nurtures the work of radical and holistic medicine to support people's personal, collective and structural transformation.
No More Exclusions (NME)
NME is a Black-led anti-racist organisation working to build an abolitionist grassroots movement in education. Their coalition includes young people, parents, parent advocates, teachers, teaching assistants, trade unionists, social workers, lawyers, youth workers, faith leaders, local councillors, journalists, academics, education researchers, SEND specialists, psychologists and mental health practitioners.
Support these campaigns in the US:
- Advance racial equity with Giving / Gap
- Campaign against book bans, organised by PEN America
- End discriminatory profiling by the US government, organised by ACLU
Support these campaigns in the UK:
- Fight the refugee ban organised by Refugee Action
- Demand non-policing solutions to serious youth violence organised by Liberty
- Stop sending pregnant women to prison, organised by Level Up
This piece was written by Spark & Co.'s Brand and Engagement Lead, Zoe Daniels (They/Them). Find out more about them here.