By Norma Adams-Wade
George Floyd, a blank piece of paper, unlearned characters in the Bible. George Floyd was just a nobody. Right? Laws would call him a criminal. A blank sheet of paper is just paper. Right? Its status rises when something important is written on it. Unlearned Bible characters, with no wealth or titles, were simple peasants but continue to intrigue Bible scholars and believers. Just a this, just a that – and then, something happens to change the narrative and history. Floyd, of course, became a cause célèbre when he died Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, during an arrest. Derek Chauvin, at the time a Minneapolis police officer, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while the 46-year-old was handcuffed on the ground repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Floyd died under the officer’s knee. A bystander videotaped the killing, posted it on social media, and global protests erupted, plus shrill calls for police reform policies.
Media widely reported the prophetic words of Floyd’s then six-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Floyd, who acknowledging the global outpouring, proudly proclaimed on social media, “Daddy changed the world!” A jury, 11 months later on April 20, 2021, unanimously found Chauvin guilty on three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The former 19- year veteran officer is set to be sentenced June 16. Meanwhile, News headlines continue to chronicle new deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police – one that happened and was widely reported on the day of Chauvin’s verdict. Ironically, Chauvin’s sentencing date is three days before African-Americans, across the nation and particularly in Texas, will celebrate Juneteenth. The date commemorates June 19, 1865 when enslaved Africans in Texas learned two years late that the government had legally ended slavery in the nation.
Some pundits see social justice parallels between Juneteenth and Chauvin’s sentencing. In the meantime, society has changed, drastically, brought about largely by just an ordinary man – flawed, off-course and maybe destined for the demise the world witnessed on camera and social media. KARE TV 11, in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed, investigated the legal fallout that followed the murder of the Fayetteville, NC native who grew up in Houston. The station’s research shows that the proposed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – a police reform bill that passed the Democratic-led House March 3, 2021 and is stalled in the Senate – is among a ballooning numbers of police reform laws spurred by Floyd’s murder. KARE 11’s investigation quotes Amber Widgery, Principal (or leader) of the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures that tracks national, state and local police reform bills.
Widgery was quoted in mid-April as saying that since Floyd’s May 25, 2020 death, 111 new policing reform laws have passed, about 1,600 others still are pending, and nearly 50 bills and resolutions bear Floyd’s name. The fallout from the Floyd death, has been monumental and life-altering – making true young Gigi’s proclamation. Lawmakers, scholars, news pundits, clerics, and corporate leaders have put forth their interpretations of what it all means and how to make policing more fair and safer. The world may never know why the 2020 death and life of the flawed, alleged criminal have had such an impact.
Those blank sheets of paper – whether papyrus, parchment, scrolls or bamboo – that have shaped government: the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights to name a few – ultimately became national treasures when written upon. And those blemished, Biblical characters who originally were nobodies – Moses, Rahab, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, and the uneducated fishermen disciples, to name a few – are names cemented in national memory. Will Floyd’s legacy be that he changed policing? Maybe time will tell.
Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974.