Terrence Floyd asks America to 'stay peaceful'

George Floyd’s brother has a message for America: ‘You have the right to be angry – but express it peacefully’

Exclusive: Terrence Floyd tells The Independent that a guilty verdict would be ‘milestone for change’

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 19 April 2021 15:14
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No words can adequately explain what this past year has been like for Terrence Floyd and the other members of George Floyd’s family.

Surreal? Without doubt. A mental rollercoaster? For sure.

And how to describe these last four weeks, when Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police Department officer charged with Floyd’s death, has gone on trial, and the family has sat in the same courtroom, sometimes just feet away. Intense is surely an understatement.

Yet as the month-long trial draws to a close and the nation prepares for the jury to retire to consider its verdict, the dead man’s younger brother, Terrence Floyd, is utterly precise when asked how people in Minneapolis and across America should react if the outcome is not the one they wish to hear.

“[A guilty verdict] would be a big spark of hope. A sigh of relief that we see change now – it’s not just somebody speaking change, but seeing it. It’d be like a milestone to see change like that happen,” he tells The Independent.

No matter how hungry the family is for conviction, he urges people to remain peaceful if the verdict is something different.

“You have a right to be angry. You have a right to protest and let your voice be heard. And to express that anger. But don’t express it in a violent way; express it in a peaceful way.”

He adds: “Show the people out there that think we’re animals, we’re not. We’re just angry, and we want to be heard. We have a right to be heard. This is my message – keep it peaceful.”

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.  Shortly before the trial began, the city of Minneapolis agreed a $27m (£19m) deal with the dead man’s family to settle a civil wrongful-death lawsuit.

Terrence Floyd on how seeing Derek Chauvin made him feel

On Monday, the jury is to hear closing arguments from both the prosecution and the defence, before it is sent away, sequestered and told to consider its decisions.

Last week, judge Peter Cahill turned to the jurors and warned them to pack a bag when they returned on Monday.

“If I were you, I would plan for long [deliberations] and hope for short,” he told them.

Since his brother was killed in the Powderhorn neighbourhood of Minneapolis on 25 May last year, the journey taken by Terrence, a school bus driver from New York, has been remarkable. 

Terrence has been thrust into roles that he says he had not anticipated, from the moment he flew to the city, days after George’s death, to see where his brother perished at the junction of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, Chauvin leaning his knee on his neck while onlookers filmed the incident and shouted that the detained man could not breathe.

On that first visit, when he collapsed and prayed in the road outside the Cup Food store where his brother had allegedly sought to use a counterfeit $20 bill, which led someone to call the police, Terrence called for an end to the violence that threatened to overshadow the peaceful protests sparked by his brother’s death.

“Let’s switch it up. Do this peacefully, please,” he told a crowd. “He loved it here... I highly doubt – no, no, I know, he would not want you to be doing this... Whoever’s doing it – relax. Peace on the left, justice on the right.”

Terrence chats with The Independent, sitting outside on a day when the sun is shining and the breeze that floats through an apartment complex that belongs to somebody else feels warm and soft. Yet, the coming days are going to be anything but relaxed.

The 44-year-old says that because of his brother’s death, and what has happened, he needs to use his platform to push for change. At one point, he says, he was scared to do so, fearful he might be harmed and his own children left without a father.

He says he no longer carries that fear, persuaded that it is more important he press for racial justice. Hanging over everything are thoughts of his older brother and what became of him.

“This has happened to a lot us, but this hit my doorstep. So now it’s time for me to speak where I was scared to speak. Before, I could have said some stuff, but I was scared. So I have to. I have to walk where he can’t walk, talk where he can’t talk, love where he can’t love. And that’s what I’m going to continue, and to carry out.”

Terrence Floyd collapsed after visiting the site of his brother’s death

Does he feel pressure because of this?

“I was just talking to a friend of mine this morning, and she reminded me of the saying, ‘Heavy is the head the wears the crown.’ And you know, sometimes I feel like I want to take the crown off because it’s weighing me down, but I can’t. I just can’t,” he says. 

“And that’s why I have my friends and my circle around me [so] that when I feel like taking it off, they can kind of tilt it back up, keep it on.”

The death last spring of 46-year-old George Floyd, over which four former Minneapolis Police Department officers were arrested and charged, immediately sparked protests across the Twin Cities. Most were peaceful, but there was also destruction of property. The building of the police’s third precinct was set on fire.

The demonstrations, organised by Black Lives Matter and other groups, rapidly spread to other cities in the country and around the world – London, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid.

I felt disgusted, but I didn’t feel like doing any harm to him

Taking place against the backdrop of the pandemic, the protesters sought to raise not the scourge of police in the US repeatedly killing unarmed Black men, but the institutional and systemic racism that underpinned it.

What does he hope to secure if the movement can overcome centuries of discrimination?

“Like all the other civil rights leaders – equality. We have different skin colours. We still bleed the same; all our blood is red. We’re all human,” he says.

“So, equality. Because right now, one race thinks they’re better than the other. But there’s no black race, or white race, just the human race.”

Floyd says he has formed an organisation in New York to work with young people in communities to push both for police reform, and securing better training and education.

“I’m trying to raise awareness, because you could go to the politicians and you can talk to the politicians – they do what they can do – but at the end of the day, it’s the people that really run the country,” he says.

Has there been any contact from the Biden administration, from the president himself, or else Kamala Harris? “Not to me.”

He adds: “Because I have plenty of people who say, ‘Where’s Biden now? Where’s Kamala Harris now?’ Well, I’d like to know.”

And what about former president Barack Obama?

“I’m still in awe of when he retweeted me from before when I was down here,” he says. “I’m still in awe of that, so if you mean did they reach out, I think that’s a reach out. That’s a big reach.”

Terrence, who is one of three of George’s brothers, the others being Rodney and Philonise, has been attending court almost every day.

It has been intense, he says, because for the last year, “I’ve been seeing this particular person, Chauvin, on TV.  But to see him up close, it brings on a whole bunch of emotions.”

He adds: “You know there’s a ‘why?’ factor, ‘What was on your mind?’ But you can’t get to him to talk to him about that.” He says there has been no contact from Chauvin or his family throughout the process.

He reveals that on the very first day of the trial he found himself all but alone with the man charged with killing his brother, during a break in the proceedings.

“It was recess. And I came outside court through a vestibule. And I was sitting down, and I guess he walked out. I stood up just to stretch my legs but he came out at the same time,” he says. 

“And I got a question [afterwards from my friends], ‘Did I want to grab him and put my knee on his neck?’ And I said no, I didn’t feel that way. I felt disgusted, but I didn’t feel like doing any harm to him because I didn’t think it would prove a point. It wouldn’t prove no point.”