Culture

George Floyd Would Have Condemned the Riots. Here's How We Know.

Twitter screenshot of George Floyd with a Bible.

Last week, a viral video captured the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands — truly at the knees — of police officers in Minneapolis. Officer Derek Chauvin faces charges of third-degree murder and protests over George Floyd’s death devolved into lootingvandalism, and arson in cities across America. Floyd’s family has said the “gentle giant” would never have wanted this destruction. In fact, George Floyd insisted that “God trumps street culture.”

So who was George Floyd?

This 46-year-old black man, an athlete and hip-hop artist who performed under the stage name “Big Floyd,” grew up in Houston, Texas, and moved to Minnesota in 2014. He worked as a restaurant security guard for five years and lost his job due to Minnesota’s stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic. He was the father of two daughters, ages 6 and 22, who remained in Houston.

Minneapolis police accused Floyd of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. They claimed Floyd physically resisted arrest. Citing police body cameras, a report states the man “did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers, intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still.” Even if Floyd resisted arrest, that does not justify Chauvin putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, apparently suffocating him. Floyd said, “Please,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Don’t kill me,” as the officer mercilessly kept his knee on his neck.

But who was George Floyd, Really?

While Floyd’s last moments have gone viral, those who knew him remember George Floyd as a man of faith. As the hip-hop artist Ronnie Lillard, who performs under the name “Reconcile,” told Christianity Today, George Floyd presented Jesus Christ as the answer to the violence of street culture.

“He helped push the baptism tub over, understanding that people were going to make a decision of faith and get baptized right there in the middle of the projects. He thought that was amazing,” Lillard told CT. “The things that he would say to young men always referenced that God trumps street culture. I think he wanted to see young men put guns down and have Jesus instead of the streets.”

Patrick Ngwolo, the founder of Resurrection Houston, gave an emotional tribute to Floyd in a sermon on Sunday.

“Big Floyd was a gatekeeper in Third Ward, in the community homes project, and I owe much of my ministry to him opening doors that I could not open in the city. And so his life was so meaningful and so precious to so many and his death has crushed me,” Ngwolo said. He compared Floyd’s death to the deaths of Abel and Jesus Christ and assured viewers that “God hears the blood of George Floyd” calling out from the ground. He expressed hope that the outrage over Floyd’s death might encourage Americans to wrestle with racism, repent, and follow Jesus.

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As Christianity Today reported, it can be difficult for outsiders or ministers to gain trust or even ensure their own safety in the Third Ward. “The ‘stamp of approval’ granted from a figure like Floyd is crucial for urban discipleship, which requires access, direction, and context to be effective.”

“His faith was a heart for the Third Ward that was radically changed by the gospel, and his mission was empowering other believers to be able to come in and push that gospel forth,” Nijalon Dunn, who was baptized at Cuney Homes Housing Project, known as “the Bricks,” told Christianity Today.

“There are things that Floyd did for us that we’ll never know until the other side of eternity,” Dunn added. “There were times where we’d have Church at the Bricks until 3 p.m., and by 4:30, they’re firing shots right at the basketball courts.”

Lillard predicted that George Floyd will be “immortalized in the Third Ward community forever. His mural will be on the walls. Every youth and young man growing up will know George Floyd. The people who knew him personally will remember him as a positive light. Guys from the streets look to him like, ‘Man, if he can change his life, I can change mine.’”

Speaking with Christianity Today, Ngwolo explained the connection between George Floyd and Abel and Jesus.

After Cain’s superiority and animosity drove him to kill Abel, God asked Cain, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).

“If you fast-forward 2,000 years, there’s another innocent sufferer whose blood spoke of better things than Abel’s. … Jesus’ blood says he can redeem us through these dark and perilous times,” Ngwolo said. “I have hope because just like Abel is a Christ figure, I see my brother [Floyd] as a Christ figure as well, pointing us to a greater reality. God does hear us. He hears his cry even from the ground now. Vengeance will either happen on the cross or will happen on Judgment Day.”

George Floyd’s death raises troubling questions. While the number of unarmed black men killed at the hands of police officers pales in comparison to other homicide rates, this kind of police brutality deserves universal condemnation — and indeed, both Republicans and Democrats have decried this horrific killing. Even many police officers have marched in solidarity with protesters. Derek Chauvin and his confederates deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and the prospects of that are good.

Sadly, the riots following these protests have destroyed property, terrified citizens, and devastated livelihoods. Americans’ hearts should break for the black business owner who invested his life savings in his sports bar, only to see it destroyed in riots supposedly aimed at helping black people.

George Floyd would not have wanted this devastation. He would have opened the doors for the gospel in this dark time — and if Americans truly want to remember him for who he was, they should listen to the gospel preachers for whom George Floyd served as a gatekeeper.

Resurrection Houston shared a photo of Floyd holding up a Bible with his friends.

“We pray that here we may learn the worth of men created in the image of God,” the church posted. Amen.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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