Who was George Floyd? The ‘gentle giant’ who was trying to turn his life around

George Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the US, with demonstrators desperately calling for an end to police violence.

Mr Floyd was an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes as he told them “I can’t breathe”.

He moved to Minneapolis after being released from prison and was known as a “gentle giant” who was trying to turn his life around.

A man waves a Black Lives Matter flag during a protest over the Minneapolis death of George Floyd while in police custody outside CNN Center on May 29, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
Image:A man waves a Black Lives Matter flag during a protest in Atlanta

The 46-year-old was born in North Carolina and lived in Houston, Texas, when he was younger but moved to Minneapolis several years ago to find work, according to his lifelong friend, Christopher Harris.

He was known to loved ones as “Big Floyd” and was the father to a six-year-old daughter who lives in Houston with her mother, Roxie Washington.

Ms Washington told the Houston Chronicle he was a good father while they were raising their daughter, Gianna, together.

He also left behind a girlfriend, Courteney Ross, who said she was “heartbroken” over his death.

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“Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate Floyd,” she told the Star Tribune.

“He loved the city. He came here [from Houston] and stayed here for the people and the opportunities.”

George Floyd with girlfriend Courteney Ross. Pic: Courteney Ross
Image:George Floyd with girlfriend Courteney Ross. Pic: Courteney Ross

Mr Floyd was a talented athlete who particularly excelled in football and basketball at school.

One of Mr Floyd’s former classmates, Donnell Cooper, said he had a “quiet personality but a gentle spirit”.

Tens of thousands protest across US

Tens of thousands protest across US

According to Ms Washington, he did not finish school and began making music with a hip-hop group called the Screwed Up Click.

After he struggled to find work in Houston, he left the city for Minneapolis.

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There, he worked two jobs, one driving trucks and another as a security guard at Latin American restaurant Conga Latin Bistro.

A Conga customer, Jessi Zendejas, said in a Facebook post that Mr Floyd “loved his hugs from his regulars”, according to the Star Tribune.

“[He] would be mad if you didn’t stop to greet him because he honestly loved seeing everyone and watching everyone have fun,” she said.

In a post on a GoFundMe page, Mr Floyd’s sister, Bridgett, said he would “give you the shirt off his back”.

George Floyd with his sister, Bridgett. Pic: Bridgett Floyd
Image:George Floyd with his sister, Bridgett. Pic: Bridgett Floyd

His friend, Oscar Smallwood, wrote on Facebook: “The gentle giant has gained his wings, didn’t get that chance to say I Love you!”

According to court documents, Mr Floyd was charged in 2007 with armed robbery in a “home invasion”. He was sentenced to five years in prison after a plea deal in 2009.

In a recent video on social media, he spoke out against gun violence, saying: “Our young generation is clearly lost”.

On Monday, he was pinned to the ground by police officer Derek Chauvin while being arrested for allegedly using a fake $20 note in a shop.

Minneapolis police arrest man who later dies

Video shows officer kneeling on man who later died

In footage of the arrest, Mr Floyd can be heard saying he could not breathe, before he is seen being lifted on to a stretcher and into an ambulance.

He died in hospital.

Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, while three other officers involved in the incident were sacked.

Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter
Image:Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter

A former owner of Minneapolis’s El Nuevo Rodeo bar said both Mr Floyd and Chauvin had been employed as security guards at the venue at the same time.

Maya Santamaria told KSTP-TV the police officer worked off-duty outside the club and does not know if the pair knew each other, but there would have been occasions when they were working on the same night.

She claimed Chauvin often overreacted and used pepper spray on people, saying “he had a real short fuse and he seemed afraid”.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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