One year ago today, George Perry Floyd was alive.
Today, you will likely read, see and hear reminiscences about Floyd’s death. There will be stories about legislation, police brutality and the criminal justice system, but none of that killed George Floyd. He was not called the n-word. He wasn’t targeted by a white supremacist mob. He was not lynched. A man killed George Floyd. Racism killed George Floyd.
America killed George Floyd
Still, George Floyd is dead because he was a Black man in America. And if America was not a racist country, George Floyd would be alive.
Reducing Floyd’s death to a single, isolated instant in time would be a disservice to his memory. One cannot simply parse the details of that one thing that happened one year ago today. That is not how time works. Only by taking a realistic, informed view of how this country works can we understand the culmination of events that led to Floyd’s untimely demise.
Instead of pondering what killed George Floyd, perhaps we should ask ourselves what could have been. If racism was not encoded into America’s DNA, George Floyd would probably be alive. If he were white, he would likely be alive. If we were better people, he might still be living and breathing.
If America was not a racist country, George Floyd would be alive.
The white men who we now know as the Founding Fathers had serious reservations about enshrining white supremacy into this nation’s founding documents because they knew it was detestable. In 1787, James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” said it would be “wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.” John Adams said, “I abhorred slavery.” Thomas Jefferson called it a “hideous blot” and a “moral depravity.”
Had any of these men held fast to the ideals that “all men are created equal,” Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr. would not have been enslaved. Yet somehow, after being emancipated by the Thirteenth Amendment (which wouldn’t have been necessary) Stewart—George Floyd’s great-great-grandfather—acquired 500 acres of land by the time he was 20. If North Carolina had not banned Stewart from learning to read, he could have mounted a legal defense when white men illegally seized this land from him. Even if he had lost, he would have been compensated around $153,000 in today’s money. Stewart’s children and grandchildren would have not had to work as sharecroppers.
But because that generational wealth was stolen, George Floyd’s parents moved to a housing project in Houston, Texas, to find work. Housing projects existed because the federal government restricted banks from offering loans in Black neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods exist because of segregation. Segregation exists because of racism. Segregation could not have been legally enforced if institutional white supremacy was not supported by financial institutions, state legislatures and white people in general. This could not exist in a country that wasn’t racist.
Still, George Floyd graduated from high school and attended college; his older brothers and sisters had not. In 1985, only 26.5 percent of high school graduates attended college, while 34 percent of white Americans attended. In 1997, 22-year-old Floyd was arrested for less than $100 worth of an illegal substance. In 1997, a Black person was four times more likely to be arrested for an illegal substance than a white person. If he wasn’t Black, he wouldn’t have been sentenced to six months in jail, something that almost never happens to white first-time drug offenders.
To escape the circle of racism, Floyd moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where the Black poverty rate is more than four times the white poverty rate; where the Black incarceration rate is 11 times the white incarceration rate; where the Black-white income gap is second-to-last among the 100 largest cities in America.
Had George Floyd done nothing but be white, he would have been living in the second-highest ranked state for opportunity, according to U.S. News. A white George Floyd would have been living in a state ranked eighth in healthcare, which means he would have probably received treatment for his substance abuse problem. He may have even received, Buprenorphine, a miracle drug used to treat opioid use disorder that is rarely available to Black patients.
Had George Floyd not lived in a racist country, or if he were white, Floyd would likely not have met Derek Chauvin. Derek Chauvin would have probably been fired when he kneeled on LaSean Braddock in 2013. He might have been kicked off the force when he choked Julian Hernandez in 2015. Or Jimmy Bostic in 2016. Or Sir Rilee Peet in 2019. Or when he kneeled on Zoya Code in 2020.
Even if Chauvin had somehow kept his job brutalizing Black people for money, George Floyd might still be alive if he was white. But Black Minneapoleans are six times more likely to be rendered unconscious by police officers than are white suspects. In Minneapolis, cops use force on Black people seven times more than they use it on whites.
If George Floyd had encountered any other police officer, he might be alive. The first officer on the scene did not kneel on Floyd’s neck. Nor did the second officer. The third did not choke Floyd unconscious. Derek Chauvin did. Because Derek Chauvin chokes Black people. Because, despite 17 complaints against him–six for undue use of force–the city of Minneapolis allowed him to continue to choke Black people.
If Minneapolis cared about its Black citizens, Derek Chauvin would not have been on its police force. George Floyd could have resisted arrest and still be alive if Minneapolis did not support this state-sponsored violence against Black bodies. The drugs in his system would not have mattered. The alleged counterfeit bill would not have mattered. The people screaming to save his life would not have mattered.
A year ago, he was alive. He was alive two years ago. He was alive two decades ago. For 46 years, he had managed to survive the pillaging of his family’s wealth. He outlasted a racist education system. He withstood the prejudice of the criminal justice system. He managed to hurdle poverty, outmaneuver mass incarceration and dodge drug dependency. He somehow leaped over almost every obstacle lobbed in his direction.
This infernal nation, planted in the soil of white supremacy and watered with Black blood and tears, is a devourer of things. It chokes and it steals and it plunders and its gnashing teeth renders lifeless everything that is not white. It was built that way.
George Floyd could not outrun the color of his skin. He could not escape racism. George Floyd could not survive this white supremacist lynch mob called America.
A year ago, George Floyd was alive and now he is not.
And George Floyd is dead because America is a racist country.