Two years since George Floyd's murder, do Black Americans see an equatable future? We spoke to Floyd’s cousin Paris Stevens about the racial justice movement and where the pledges for change stand today.
Two years ago today, George Perry Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who knelt on his neck for almost ten minutes, sparking what are seen as the largest series of demonstrations in American history.
Floyd’s cousin and co-chair of the George Floyd Global Memorial, Paris Stevens, spoke to TRT World on the eve of his death anniversary. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 – an incident that completely altered her life as well as the lives of countless Americans.
“He is our heartbeat now, and we have to carry on and live through him. We have to keep walking this walk of fighting injustice and inequality, because the race is not going to be won within a day. So we have to keep on the course every single day,” said Stevens.
Despite wide-spread outrage over Floyd’s killing, police brutality didn’t stop as deaths at the hands of overzealous officers were reported from across the country. A notable case is that of 20-year-old Daunte Wright who was killed by officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop north of Minneapolis.
Stevens told TRT World that “every time someone is killed unjustly by law enforcement” she is brought back to the moment of Floyd’s death.
“You have the movie play again in front of your eyes of Perry laying on the pavement suffering. And it takes you completely back to that horrifying time,” she said, adding that she is determined to keep pressing government officials to pass laws to keep civilians safe.
In fact, US President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday that would require federal law enforcement agencies to review and revise policies on the use of force.
Ahead of the public announcement, officials said the reform order would also limit the transfer of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement officers and restrict chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
In March, Biden signed into law a bill making racist lynchings a federal hate crime with a sentence up to 30 years in prison for anyone convicted. The law ended a history of impunity of thousands of lynchings of Black people dating back to the 19th century.
"Lynching was pure terror," Biden said, warning that "racial hate isn't an old problem. It's a persistent problem" and that it “never goes away, it only hides."
Stevens highlighted how important these laws are and how Floyd’s death fuelled the Black Lives Matter movement and led to the creation of many social justice organisations and scholarship funds across dozens of universities.
“I met so many people that say ‘if it wasn't for what happened to George Floyd, I wouldn’t have had this particular opportunity, wouldn’t have gotten this particular job, wouldn’t have gone to college…” said Stevens.
“I hate that George Floyd passed away, but there’s a purpose for everything. I guess his death was inevitable to open eyes and have people acknowledge that there is still a problem and we can take it upon ourselves to heal us,” she added.
Growing up with Floyd
“When he would walk into a room, he would really just light it up. He was one of the nicest people that I had met,” said Stevens.
“He loved people. He would really give his last to help someone,” she added, noting how he supported his family as they struggled financially and “wanted to take care of his mom and really make her proud.”
The two cousins shared a love of music and sports, often talking about their “aspirations of making it big” in the The National Basketball Association and the Women's National Basketball Association. Stevens said “he was a phenomenal athlete” and chuckled as she told TRT World how he also loved to rap.
“He was really a genuine guy. If he could talk to anybody, and on any level, you could relate to him. That's why he was so liked in Houston,” said Stevens, adding that her aunt Angela Harrelson would often call Floyd the “ghetto superstar.”
After living in Houston since the age of five, Floyd moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a substance abuse disorder treatment programme called Turning Point.
“He was having challenges with sobriety so he came here to turn his life around,” explained Stevens. “He was working several jobs, going through the programme and he wanted to take care of his daughter Gianna. That was his goal and Minneapolis became his second home.”
However, the last time Stevens saw Floyd was a couple of years prior to his move to Minneapolis, as they lost touch due to his challenges with sobriety.
“It was hard to get a hold of him a lot. Our last meeting was at a thanksgiving dinner. I would try to encourage him, say positive things like you just have to ‘stay the course.’ He was so appreciative, he would just listen and say ‘you’re right cuz’,” she said.
Reminiscing on those large family gatherings for Thanksgiving dinners in Houston that “Aunt Doll Baby” would host, Stevens said it was just such a great time to be together.”
Floyd was killed just steps away from the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South, a square that has now become the site of the George Floyd Global Memorial.
Since his death, thousands of people have travelled from across the US to gather in the square and add their offerings to the mass collection of murals, letters, protest signs, paintings, flowers and sculptures memorialising Floyd.
It was this original influx of offerings that led to the formation of the memorial organisation which is run by three board members: Stevens, her aunt Angela Harrelson and Executive Directive Jeanelle Austin.
The organisation, with over 50 caretakers that tend to the square, was formed on October 14, 2020 for what would have been Floyd’s 47th birthday.
“We have over 5,000 pieces that were conserved. There are murals, paintings, letters, sculptures — it's remarkable what people have left. The whole goal is to build a museum with all those artefacts,” said Stevens.
This week in honour of Floyd the organisation is holding a week of events including a candlelight vigil on Wednesday and a gala on Friday that will feature various speakers including a George Floyd scholarship recipient.
Stevens said the scholarships are “really changing lives and giving young people an opportunity to really make a change and see if you’ve been in trouble that there's still a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Stevens says she often gets asked by people how they can get involved in the movement.
“I tell them to be open to communicate with people who may not look like you. That’s the first step, you want to get to know people who are not in your community,” Stevens said. “It’s okay to say ‘well I do have some Black friends’ but do you really? Do you know what goes on in their world?”
“You want to put yourself in their world because as African-Americans we are already engulfed into this world, we don't have a choice,” she added.
Stevens also encouraged everyone who wants to be involved in the movement to use their voice – “whether you're doing artwork or singing or acting, you use your platform and you don’t waver when it’s uncomfortable for you.”
Despite being “frightened to death to speak in front of large crowds” in the past, Stevens now uses her platform to speak at schools, universities and churches across the nation.
“What I really want people to know: we all have a purpose. We have to make people accountable for their actions and that starts in grade school,” said Stevens, who highlighted that continued education is crucial to combating the issue of racism and police brutality.
“It’s continuous because people need to be reminded. They have to be updated with new policies and procedures. And any time there's an incident, we have to re-educate ourselves,” said Stevens, who has a background in nursing and education.