Criminal Justice

1 Year After His Death, George Floyd’s Legacy Is A Civil Rights ‘Awakening’

Houston native George Floyd died at the hands of police brutality. Now, a year later, he is being remembered for the way his death changed society’s view on social injustice.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool, File
In this June 9, 2020, file photo a man draws an image of George Floyd during the funeral service for Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston.

One year ago, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police — a killing that led to a murder conviction for former officer Derek Chauvin.

Although Floyd was not the first to die at the hands police, his death — and the final moments of his life, where he repeated the phrase, "I can't breathe" — led to mass civil rights protests, including thousands who marched in downtown Houston — the city Floyd once called home. In response, Mayor Sylvester Turner has made police reform a top priority, promising to enact a slew of recommendations from his police reform task force.

It’s just one example of how Floyd's legacy has changed the way people think about civil rights, and sparked an outcry for social justice across America.

"George was part of the awakening that needed to happen in the world to see what is happening with our policing system," said Fountain of Praise Pastor Mia Wright. "How members of certain communities, particularly African Americans are not given the same rights when it comes to their rights that they should receive upon arrest or upon some interaction with the police system."

Wright's words came during Tuesday's Houston Matters, in which host Craig Cohen spoke to the pastor, as well as Floyd's cousin and president of the George Floyd Foundation, Shareeduh Tate, to look back at the past year and what's changed since his death.

The two women highlighted Floyd's humanity, and the humanity of the hundreds of Black Americans killed by police every year. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, after Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on the back of his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Throughout video recorded at the scene, Floyd could be seen and heard calling for his mother.

Since that circulated, his family has been thrust into the spotlight.

"It's not something we sought out," said Tate, Floyd's cousin. "We were chosen, George was chosen, and so we've accepted the challenge to say that we're going to do what is necessary to make sure that his death is not in vain."

Now, with that spotlight and a mass call for change, Floyd's family has set up a foundation in his name to help other people of color, and others who grew up in a similar way to Floyd. With the foundation, which is run by Tate, his family is helping push for legislation, workforce development, and youth services to help younger generations stay out of trouble.

Floyd's family is not alone in seeking change. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who spoke about his death Tuesday morning at a Commissioners Court hearing, said she hoped his memory would spark a widespread movement for justice.

"That murder, that death, set off a wave of recognition, a wave of activism around our shortcomings when it comes to race, and when it comes to civil rights," Hidalgo said. "His neighbors, his friends, family, but us as his community in particular, will not forget what his death represents."

Just this month the commissioners court unanimously approved a resolution to pardon Floyd for drug charges from 2004. Floyd was arrested by former Houston Police officer Gerald Goines, who is now facing murder charges. Police and priosecutors say Goines lied about a confidential informant to obtain a no-knock warrant for a Pecan Park drug raid that led to the death of a Harding Street couple.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia spoke on the importance of continuing the discussion for police reform, with initiatives for body cameras and on use of force, so that an incident like Floyd's does not happen again.

"We should be the ones to continue to be the leaders," Garcia said. "And striving to bring the best possible relationship that we can have between law enforcement and members of the community, and in particular, members of communities of color."

Floyd was buried in Houston last year, after a memorial in which thousands paid their respects. As the fight for social justice continues, his family and church hopes to keep the legacy of Floyd alive with one final homegoing — a commemorative concert Sunday in his name, at Fountain of Praise in Houston.

"There's still a lot more work to be done, and all of us can play a role in doing that," she said.

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