George Floyd, the man whose death sparked US unrest

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Floyd's face on a mural in Berlin, GermanyImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Floyd's face on a mural in Berlin, Germany

Before the image of George Floyd lying under the knee of a policeman set off shock, anger and protests across the US, the arch of his life crossed crests and troughs.

There were highs, as when he, as a teenager in Houston, played American football for the 1992 Texas state champion runners-up Yates High School Lions.

There were lows, as when he was arrested for robbery in 2007 and served five years in prison.

But mostly, it would seem that Floyd, who was 46 when he died in Minneapolis on 25 May, 2020, was simply trying to live life as any other American, in search of betterment in the face of both personal and societal challenges.

His death amid a public health crisis and economic calamity that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and left over 40 million unemployed has become the latest totem of the ills that plague the country in 2020.

A native of Houston, Texas, Floyd grew up in the neighbourhood at the heart of the city's black community, the Third Ward, just to the south of the city centre.

Beyoncé grew up there, as did Bayou City's blues music scene. Drake, a Canadian rapper, paid homage to its musical vibrancy, and Floyd himself is thought to have 'spit bars' as part of the hip-hop group in the 1990s in Houston.

But poverty, racial division and economic inequalities mark its history, too, as with any American city. Marred by segregation in the 20th Century, the Third Ward Floyd left in recent years has seen gang violence and tensions over housing.

"Anytime I take somebody who's not from there, people actually are like 'man, oh my God, I've never seen poverty like this.

"It looks like a bomb went off, what happened?'" Ronnie Lillard, a friend from the neighbourhood tells the BBC.

"People are still living in shot-gun shacks that were erected in the 1920s. The poverty is thorough... and being from that area, it's hard to escape," says Mr Lillard, a rapper who performs under the name Reconcile.

Image source, European Photopress Agency

Floyd was well known in the council estate housing project, Cuney Homes, he adds. "Cuney Homes is known as 'The Bricks' and if you're from there they call you 'a brickboy'. He was a brickboy."

Growing up a gifted athlete standing at six feet six inches, friends who knew Floyd as a teenager described him as a "gentle giant" who shone on the field in two sports, basketball as well as American football.

"I was blown away, cause at 12 years old he was six-foot-two," Jonathan Veal, a childhood friend and former teammate, told local media. "I had never seen anyone that tall before".

At John Yates High School, he wore number 88 in the tight end position for the football team, and was later recruited to play basketball at South Florida State College in Avon Park, Florida, where he was a student from 1993 to 1995, according to CNN.

He returned to Texas for a school year at Texas A&M University, Kingsville, but did not complete his degree.

His life then took a different turn, with a string of arrests for theft and drug possession culminating in an armed robbery charge in 2007, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison.

He became involved in his local ministry, Resurrection Houston, after his release and was intent on making changes in himself and his neighbourhood, says Mr Lillard.

"While he was embracing his own life change, he was looking around at his community."

Media caption,

Minneapolis voices: ‘As a black American I am terrified’

A video of Floyd decrying gun violence, believed to be filmed in 2017, has circulated on social media, in which he implored young people to "come home".

His family told the Houston Chronicle he moved to Minnesota in 2018 after being encouraged by friends through a Christian work programme.

Christopher Harris, a friend and former classmate, told US media Mr Floyd "was looking to start over fresh, a new beginning".

"He was happy with the change he was making," he added.

The former athlete found work as a security guard at a local Salvation Army charity, and then took on jobs as a lorry driver and dance club bouncer at Conga Latin Bistro, where he was known as "Big Floyd."

Like many Americans, however, he found himself laid off amid mass business closures resulting from the Covid-19 crisis.

On the day of his arrest, he was said to have been attempting to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.

Media caption,

Eric Garner death inspires an unlikely police experiment

Anger over Mr Floyd's death has spurred protests across the US, with some descending into chaos and violence.

Over 1,600 people have been arrested in nearly two dozen cities, and the National Guard deployed in 15 states.

Mr Lillard, who described his friend as a "person of peace", would have supported people's rights to be heard and for change, but would not have condoned the looting or the violence.

"He had a heart bent towards forgiveness, but he also was a man of the people, too," he said. "Even before his death, he was aware that people were hurting."

"I think this thing has grown into something more than George Floyd," he added, speaking of the protests. "I think you're watching frustration that America has with America [itself]."

US protests timeline

George Floyd dies after police arrest

Tributes to George Floyd at a makeshift memorial
Image caption Tributes to George Floyd at a makeshift memorial Image copyright by Getty Images

George Floyd dies after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage shows a white officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for several minutes while he is pinned to the floor. Mr Floyd is heard repeatedly saying "I can’t breathe". He is pronounced dead later in hospital.

Protests begin

Demonstrators in Minneapolis
Image caption Demonstrators in Minneapolis Image copyright by AFP

Four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd are fired. Protests begin as the video of the arrest is shared widely on social media. Hundreds of demonstrators take to the streets of Minneapolis and vandalise police cars and the police station with graffiti.

Protests spread

Protesters lie on the streets in Portland, Oregon
Image caption Protesters lie on the streets in Portland, Oregon Image copyright by Reuters

Protests spread to other cities including Memphis and Los Angeles. In some places, like Portland, Oregon, protesters lie in the road, chanting "I can’t breathe". Demonstrators again gather around the police station in Minneapolis where the officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest were based and set fire to it. The building is evacuated and police retreat.

Trump tweets

President Trump tweets about the unrest
Image caption President Trump tweets about the unrest Image copyright by Reuters

President Trump blames the violence on a lack of leadership in Minneapolis and threatens to send in the National Guard in a tweet.  He follows it up in a second tweet with a warning "when the looting starts, the shooting starts". The second tweet is hidden by Twitter for "glorifying violence".

CNN reporter arrested

Members of a CNN crew are arrested at a protest
Image caption Members of a CNN crew are arrested at a protest Image copyright by Reuters

A CNN reporter, Omar Jimenez, is arrested while covering the Minneapolis protest. Mr Jimenez was reporting live when police officers handcuffed him. A few minutes later several of his colleagues are also arrested. They are all later released once they are confirmed to be members of the media.

Derek Chauvin charged with murder

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after being charged over the death of George Floyd
Image caption Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after being charged over the death of George Floyd Image copyright by Getty Images

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, is charged with murder and manslaughter. The charges carry a combined maximum 35-year sentence.

Sixth night of protests

Demonstrators set fire to rubbish in New York
Image caption Demonstrators set fire to rubbish in New York Image copyright by Reuters

Violence spreads across the US on the sixth night of protests. A total of at least five people are reported killed in protests from Indianapolis to Chicago. More than 75 cities have seen protests. At least 4,400 people have been arrested.  Curfews are imposed across the US to try to stem the unrest.

Trump threatens military response

Trump posing with a Bible outside a boarded-up church
Image caption Trump posing with a Bible outside a boarded-up church Image copyright by EPA

President Trump threatens to send in the military to quell growing civil unrest. He says if cities and states fail to control the protests and "defend their residents" he will deploy the army and "quickly solve the problem for them". Mr Trump poses in front of a damaged church shortly after police used tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters nearby.

Eighth night of protests

George Floyd’s family joined protesters in Houston
Image caption George Floyd’s family joined protesters in Houston Image copyright by Getty

Tens of thousands of protesters again take to the streets. One of the biggest protests is in George Floyd’s hometown of Houston, Texas. Many defy curfews in several cities, but the demonstrations are largely peaceful.

Memorial service for George Floyd

Mourners gather to remember George Floyd
Image caption Mourners gather to remember George Floyd Image copyright by Getty

A memorial service for George Floyd is held in Minneapolis.  Those gathered in tribute stand in silence for eight minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time Mr Floyd is alleged to have been on the ground under arrest. Hundreds attended the service, which heard a eulogy from civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton.

International protests

Protester addresses crowds in Australia
Image caption Protester addresses crowds in Australia Image copyright by Getty

As the US saw another weekend of protests, with tens of thousands marching in Washington DC, anti-racism demonstrations were held around the world.

In Australia, there were major protests in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that focused on the treatment of indigenous Australians. There were also demonstrations in France, Germany, Spain and the UK. In Bristol, protesters tore down the statue of a 17th century slave trader and threw it into the harbour.

Funeral service for George Floyd

Pallbearers bring the coffin into the church
Image caption Pallbearers bring the coffin into the church Image copyright by Getty

A funeral service for George Floyd is held in Houston, Mr Floyd’s home town. Just over two weeks after his death in Minneapolis and worldwide anti-racism protests, about 500 guests invited by the Floyd family are in attendance at the Fountain of Praise Church.  Many more gather outside to show their support.