I’ve read up on George Floyd. He’s about my age and sounds like a person I would have liked to have known growing up. He was from Houston and was a standout football player in high school. He played in Texas’s state high school championship in 1992. Remember how big of a deal high school football is in Texas. That championship was played at the Astrodome.
He was 6’ 6” and called a “gentle giant” and had the nickname “Big Floyd.” His high school friend Donnell Cooper said “He had a quiet personality but a beautiful spirit.”
Like many of us, he cobbled together a living by working two jobs, as well as coaching young men in football. Unfortunately, he lost one of those jobs due to Coronavirus.
He is survived by a six-year old daughter.
Monday night, our local chapter of the NAACP held a peaceful vigil at the Dunbar Pavillion to remember George Floyd. In attendance was the Mayor, members of my staff, Senator Victoria Steele, Police Chief Christopher Magnus and chair of our Human Relations Commission Manny Guzman. I don’t have a list of everyone that was there, but much of our city’s civic leadership came out.
And a remarkable thing happened: none of them spoke. They weren’t even introduced. However, they did something far more important.
What they had the opportunity to listen to was voices from our city’s African-American community. Voices included Jeenah Hill, who gave an impassioned speech about being worried about her sons not coming home someday. She held a sign that said “My Sons Are Not Prey.”
Other speakers included the president of our local NAACP, Doris Snowden, as well as Ashley Johnson. Johnson’s father was killed in 1999 after an altercation at a gas station with Tucson Police.
Many of the stories from stage were filled with anger, but also hope that there can be change. Not one speaker advocated violence. In fact, they encouraged people to organize and to vote in the upcoming election. Jamal Givens, one of the event’s organizers, led the crowd in a chant of “I can…Do something.”
As the event wound down, Shannoah Green read the names of African Americans that had died due to police and vigilante violence while their faces appeared on a screen. The pictures made them not just names, but gave people in the crowd a crew about what was taken away: the hopeful kid in the graduation gown, the smiling man with his family, a friendly looking face enjoying time in the backyard.
Two of the event’s organizers, Zion Givens and Jahmar Anthony, ended the ceremony by asking the crowd to silently hold their fists in the air for eight minutes and forty-two seconds. That was how long the officer’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck. They did something similar at the televised funeral for Mr. Floyd on Thursday. It’s an awful long time.
Over the coming months, we are going to have a community dialog about what things need to change with our police department and our community. We are already doing a lot of things right In Tucson. Much of the credit for that goes to the leadership shown by our police under Chief Magnus. We even got a shout out from the founder of Black Lives Matter in an article in GQ. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do better. By “we,” I mean police, policy makers and citizens.