George Floyd case: Family, friends describe him as 'gentle giant' looking for a new life

George Floyd case: Family, friends describe him as 'gentle giant' looking for a new life

Moving to Minneapolis was supposed to be George Floyd's second chance at living a good life.

The native Texan followed some friends there about five years ago and landed a job working security at a Salvation Army store downtown.

Soon thereafter, he had picked up two others gigs: one driving trucks and another as a bouncer at Conga Latin Bistro where he was affectionately known as "Big Floyd."

But like so many other Americans, Floyd lost his job in the service industry when the coronavirus pandemic hit and a stay-at-home order was issued.

Fast forward a few weeks and Floyd, who has been accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill Monday night, was videotaped pinned on the ground by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chavin and struggled for air and begged for his life.

His death resulted in the swift dismissal of Chavin and three other officers involved in the incident: Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.

It also forced leaders in Minneapolis to take a hard look at how its people are policed.

Protests began late Wednesday and went into Thursday. Although most protests were peaceful, looting was reported, more than a dozen buildings were torched, and one man was shot.

On Thursday, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo acknowledged that his department contributed to the so-called "deficit of hope" that has plagued the city well before Floyd's death but said urged unruly demonstrators to stay home.

Floyd's death has not only rocked Minneapolis but has led to protests in other cities including Memphis and Los Angeles.

So, who was George Floyd?

Floyd, 46, grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, one of the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods. At 6 feet, 6 inches, Floyd emerged as a star tight end for Jack Yates High School and played in the 1992 state championship game in the Houston Astrodome. Yates lost to Temple, 38-20.

Donnell Cooper, one of Floyd’s former classmates, said he remembered watching Floyd score touchdowns and commented on how he towered over everyone and earned the nickname “gentle giant.”

“Quiet personality but a beautiful spirit,” Cooper said. His death “definitely caught me by surprise. It’s just so sad, the world we’re living in now.”

Floyd was charged in 2007 with armed robbery in a home invasion in Houston and in 2009 was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal, according to court documents.

Christopher Harris, Floyd’s childhood friend, said he and some of their mutual friends had moved to Minneapolis in search of jobs around 2014. Harris said he talked Floyd into also moving there after he got out of prison.

“He was looking to start over fresh, a new beginning,” Harris said. “He was happy with the change he was making.”


(Courtesy: Benjamin Crump via

Conga Latin Bistro owner Jovanni Tunstrom described Floyd as "always cheerful."

“He had a good attitude. He would dance badly to make people laugh. I tried to teach him how to dance because he loved Latin music, but I couldn’t because he was too tall for me. He always called me Bossman. I said, ’Floyd, don’t call me Bossman. I’m your friend.”

Floyd was laid off when Minnesota shut down restaurants as part of a stay-at-home order. Harris said he spoke with Floyd on Sunday night and gave him some information for contacting a temporary jobs agency.

“He was doing whatever it takes to maintain going forward with his life,” Harris said, adding he couldn’t believe that Floyd would resort to forgery. “I’ve never known him to do anything like that.”

Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, told CNN that "knowing my brother is to love my brother."

"He's a gentle giant, he don't hurt anybody," he told Don Lemon.

Floyd leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter who still lives in Houston with her mother, Roxie Washington, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“The way he died was senseless,” Harris said. “He begged for his life. He pleaded for his life. When you try so hard to put faith in this system, a system that you know isn’t designed for you, when you constantly seek justice by lawful means and you can’t get it, you begin to take the law into your own hands.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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