Book Review: His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice
Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming
In the midst of the deadly Covic-19 pandemic, the world witnessed the brutal killing of George Floyd, a 44-year-old black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020. Following the suspicion of passing a $20 counterfeit bill, Floyd was arrested and cruelly tossed to the pavement with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes. Two other police officers stood by without offering the black man any assistance, while he begged for his life. Another cop prevented bystanders from stopping this tragedy. It was like a savage punch to the gut.
The book’s authors, Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, both respected political journalists for The Washington Post, reveal the grim, deeply personal account of the man whose martyrdom triggered a global response to this nation’s racism. While many youths have embraced the symbol of Floyd, very few people recognized the commonality of this man with so many black males in our community. In so many ways, George Perry Floyd Jr. was an everyman through towns and cities containing men of color. These newspaper scribes want to give the full measure of Floyd’s life, warts and all. They speak candidly about Floyd’ bloodline, with the colorful character of his father. The elder George Floyd was a professional musician, playing guitar for the Chocolate Buttermilk Band, a funk group that backed James Brown, Teddy Pendergrass, and other R&B bands.
His mother was like any other black mother, struggling to make ends meet. Miss Cissy was independent, hard-working, and proud, Her neighbors loved her signature meal of mustard greens, rice and beans, turkey necks and cornbread. While her son, George, was slowly being corrupted by living in the infamous Cuney Homes in Houston. He dreamed big: a Supreme Court justice, a pro athlete, and a rap star. President Nixon called public housing developments “monstrous, depressing places – run-down, overcrowding, crime-ridden, falling apart.”
Floyd, with his big frame, was a superior athlete in high school. At age19, he was a letterman in basketball and football. However, his coaches thought he was a little timid while playing and wanted more aggression. Meanwhile, the streets were taking over his life, offering new cash outlets to make up for his mother’s medical woes. He sold drugs, namely rock cocaine on popular neighborhood corners until he was convicted in 1997. This began a relationship with bail bondsman, Travis Carns, who lost track of the many times he kept Floyd out of jail. In 2007, Floyd was charged with aggravated robbery for pointing a gun at a young woman in front of her kids while a group of pals ransacked her home.
The authors quote Miss Cissy that his status as a black male in America meant he had been born with two strikes already against him. He had emerged into the world of a particularly ill-fated time. Nixon had declared war on drugs and black men, which were filling up America’s prisons. Often during his arrest, the usual description was: “a big guy with thick lips, young and strong.”
Musical, Floyd sought out Robert Earl Davis, a popular DJ on Houston’s South Side. He approached Davis for a boost with his fledgling career as a rapper. Davis was a pioneer of “chopped-and-Screwed” hip hop style. With his “carefree” boasts, he was a feature at Davis’ Screw House where he versed about money, car, and women. Floyd didn’t make the grade as a rapper. He was disappointed.
Not only do the reporters examine Floyd’s adolescence. his turbulent psychological terrain, his erratic romances, his sordid crew of friends and associates, his ever-present drug habits, and his occasional clashes with the law. They peel back the cover on the rampant racism, corruption, and murderous intent of both Houston and Minneapolis police forces, with a blistering spotlight on the killer cop, Officer Chauvin. The grisly scene where Floyd’s neck is under the white officer’s heel will send chills through your body. After Floyd mutters, “I can’t breathe,” Chauvin replies: “All right, you’re doing a lot of talking.”
While President Trump largely ignores the crisis, the nation reaches critical mass, with massive protests and a push to end police brutality. The authors scan the trials of the police officers in Minneapolis, resulting in Chauvin being convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison. The other three officers faced federal civil rights charges and were convicted for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
According to press accounts, family members reached an agreement for Minneapolis to pay $27 million to settle a wrongful death suit on March 22, 2021. None of the Floyd criminal cases would exist except for Darnetta Frazier, a 17-year-old girl who filmed the arrest and fateful death on her cell phone. She got a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2021. Regardless of the wealth of disinformation and media propaganda, the pages of His Name Is George Floyd on this perverse killing and its aftermath goes far beyond the sound-bites and talking head chatter to the human story underneath. This is a landmark achievement on one of the most disturbing events of our new American century.