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Remembering “Big Floyd”: Houston Friends of George Floyd Describe Him as a “Man of Peace”

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Image Credit: Nijalon Dunn

As historic protests against police brutality continue nationwide, we go to Houston, Texas, the longtime home of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police last week. More than 60,000 people took to the streets Tuesday to honor his memory. We hear Floyd in his own words and speak to two of his friends about his work mentoring young men in one of the city’s historically Black communities, the Third Ward. He was “already preaching peace, love, God, unity, advocating against gun violence,” says Corey Paul, Houston hip-hop artist and entrepreneur, who ministered with Floyd alongside Patrick “P.T.” Ngwolo, pastor of the church Resurrection Houston.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: There have been protests calling for justice for George Floyd in all 50 states. And on Tuesday, 60,000 people turned out, chanting “Peace on the left and justice on the right” in the city of Houston, Texas, where he grew up. Among them were people from all walks of life, including a contingent of Black cowboys and members of George Floyd’s high school graduating class, who recalled how George was a star tight end on their football team that went to state championships.

This is Mayor Sylvester Turner addressing peaceful protesters in front of City Hall after they marched across downtown.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Today is about lifting up the family of George Floyd. Say his name.

PROTESTERS: George Floyd!

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Say his name.

PROTESTERS: George Floyd!

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: It’s about lifting up the name of George Floyd. It’s about supporting 16 members of his family, who have taken the time — OK? They have taken the time, walked through the streets, just like you did, to be here with you today. … And so, today, we want to love on them. We want them to know that George did not die in vain. That’s important. We want them to know. And I know it made a difference to them when the police chief in Minneapolis recognized that that police officer putting his knee on the neck of George was wrong, that the other three police officers standing there not doing anything, their silence was complicit, was wrong. That’s important. And it’s important for us in Georgetown, in this city, to stand up and recognize and say his name: George Floyd.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaking Tuesday at a massive rally organized by the friends of George Floyd, including hip-hop artist Bun B, who also called for more legislation to hold police responsible for violence.

The rest of the country knows George Floyd from the cellphone footage captured during his final minutes in Minneapolis just over a week ago, when police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck as he gasped and pleaded “I can’t breathe” and then lay lifeless for minutes as he continued to kneel on his neck, two officers next to him also kneeling on his back.

But in Houston’s Third Ward, George Floyd is being remembered as “Big Floyd” and the “gentle giant” and for how he was a mentor to a generation of young men as he sought to break the cycle of violence in his community. In a minute, we’ll be joined by two of his friends who worked on this outreach with him. But first, this is George Floyd in his own words from a post shared on social media.

GEORGE FLOYD: I want to speak to y’all real quick. I just want to say, man, that I got my shortcomings and my flaws, and I ain’t better than nobody else. But, man, the shootings that’s going on, man, I don’t care what religion you’re from, man, or where you’re at, man. I love you, and God love you, man. Put them guns down, man. That ain’t what it is, you know. God bless, man, and y’all holy out here, though, man. You got parents out here selling plates, man, trying to bury their kids, man. Think about it, man. Love y’all.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s George Floyd in his own words, speaking in a post he shared on social media.

Well, for more, we’re going to Houston, where we’re joined by two people who worked with George Floyd in his Third Ward community. Patrick “P.T.” Ngwolo is pastor of the church Resurrection Houston. He was a friend of and pastor to George Floyd. Also with us, Corey Paul, a Houston hip-hop artist, entrepreneur, who was a friend of George Floyd, ministered with him and Pastor P.T. They both marched Tuesday in Houston with Floyd’s family members, community leaders and tens of thousands of supporters.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! First, we want to share our condolences with you on this horrific loss that you and the whole community in this country is suffering. And I wanted to begin right now with Corey Paul, the Houston hip-hop artist, friend of George Floyd. Tell us who he was. Tell us how you came to know him, the work you did with him, and then how you learned what happened on Memorial Day. Thanks so much for joining us.

COREY PAUL: No problem. Thank you for having us.

So, when I met Big Floyd, I met Big Floyd with Resurrection Houston, with Pastor P.T. We were all together. And so, we were coming into George’s home. We were coming into Third Ward as visitors. And so, we were hopeful to find what we call a person of peace, which is someone who is from Third Ward, who is loved there, who’s respected there, so that we can connect with the community and serve from a genuine place. And we were extremely fortunate to meet George. George was already — as you know, as you can see, as you’ve heard countless times, George was already preaching peace, love, God, unity, advocating against gun violence. He was already doing that before we showed up. And so, when we got there, George basically said, “If it’s God business, then it’s my business.” And so, that was our introduction.

We would shoot visuals and have Bible studies and different things like that in the community, and George came alongside us, saying, “Whatever you need, however I can serve,” you know, let people in the community know we’re good — “Welcome them. You know, they’re helping us” — a lot of things that we could never accomplish by ourself. I’m from a neighborhood like Third Ward in Houston. And you can’t just go into a neighborhood and do what you want to. You desperately need someone like Floyd to usher you into the community. And that’s who he was.

When I think about the biggest takeaway from my experience with Floyd, it’s the unity that he preached. George is a big guy, but then, once you’re around him and people who know him, you see that every — all of his respect and admiration is gained through love. It’s through nothing else but love. He just happens to be a real big guy. But the unity, the mentoring, from guys who were kids in elementary school who are now grown men, who have stories of George taking care of them, putting money in their pocket, you know, just looking out for them, and not even a blood relation.

You know, so, when I found out about what happened to George, I was actually making the video commentating on the Central Park incident, where a white lady called the police on a Black man, saying that he was threatening her life. So I was making that video when my friend Reconcile, who did ministry with us, as well, sent me the video about George. So, just the weight of that and everything that’s been going on, the way I feel is how we see on videos across the world how we’re all feeling right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Corey Paul, given the fact that the video of your friend’s death has been played over and over again on media around the world, every time you see the video, I’m wondering your — what you go through, and also the impact that it’s had, not just in this country, but protests around the world around your friend’s death.

COREY PAUL: Yeah, so, I only saw the video partially one time. I didn’t — that was the only time that I saw it, just that one time, and I didn’t see it again after that. From there, from seeing that on several different levels, you’re outraged, from a human level, even if George was a stranger, to a personal level, knowing him, having the opportunity to have met him and worked with him in ministry and knowing the love and the unity and what he gave and how his life was taken.

Also, I served as a Houston firefighter in my city, which makes me — made me a first responder and a civil servant. So, even the aspect of the video from him going to having life to being lifeless, and the officers continuing to hold him down and stay on his neck, as a first responder, you’re in charge of care, as well, to the best of your ability, right? And they did the exact opposite, right?

So, from every aspect of the video, it’s no gray area, that it was murder. It was, I say, a first-degree murder. And seeing the reaction around the world from the video is very telling, because I don’t think that most people have saw a person go from full of life to their life literally being drained out of them and to the point of death. That video is so graphic that you have to — you have to see it. And if you don’t see what we see, then you have something inside of you that’s foundationally flawed, and hopefully you can figure it out, because it’s blatant.

AMY GOODMAN: Corey, I wanted to bring Pastor Ngwolo into this conversation. If you could describe for us the scene yesterday? Sixty thousand people, at least, in Houston, addressed by the mayor, African American mayor, as well as many others, 16 members of Floyd’s family. Describe that scene and how you came to know Floyd, who so many call the “gentle giant.”

PASTOR PATRICK “P.T.” NGWOLO: Well, thank you for having me, Amy.

The scene was indescribable. I have never seen that many people downtown Houston. Even the time that we won, the Astros won, it didn’t compare to the scene that I saw. It wasn’t just the fact that there were so many people. People were showing so much love. I got there, and I had a hundred masks ready to give out to people who needed masks. People were coming up to me, giving me masks. And, you know, I’m a big Black guy myself. And it’s kind of off-putting when people walk up and offer me things. They offered me hand sanitizer, offered me masks, you know, offered me other substances that, you know, I don’t partake of. But, man, it was cool. It was just the gestures were cool, and the love and the unity that was out there and the passion. There were people from 6 to 70 out there, just giving.

And it made me feel hopeful that people were listening, that the blood of George Floyd was heard by God and was heard by God’s people. And I also saw it as a place where, because of the isolation that we’ve had these past few months, it was also not only a place to protest George, but also a place to convene and to share ideas about what to do next, which was amazing, because, you know, it was almost as if people wanted to get it all done here, because we weren’t sure when we were going to all see each other again.

How I met George. I was a student pastor at a church in the Third Ward called Good Hope Baptist Church at the time. And George — sorry, and we were trying to reach the immediate neighborhood, and particularly the Cuney Homes housing project. And in trying to reach it, we said, “Hey, man, let’s throw this concert, hip-hop concert, rap concert, spoken word concert.” And we called it Hope for the Tre. And ironically, man, Corey and Ronnie opened up that year. And in order to get people from the neighborhood to come, we made some flyers. We went out into the Cuney Homes. We gave — passed out flyers. We were skeptical that anybody would come, because, man, nobody knew us, and we didn’t know them. And so, we passed out flyers to people in the neighborhood, and we said, “OK, we’ll see what happens the night of.”

So, on the night of the concert, we were scanning the crowd, looking to see people from diverse — I mean, we saw people from everywhere, all over the city, all shapes and colors. And we didn’t see anybody from the neighborhood we passed flyers out from. And so, one of the pastors looks out into the distance, sees this tall guy, head and shoulders above everybody else. And he beckons us, and, man, we instantly run, go over there. And it’s him and another friend of ours. And it’s the first time that we met Big Floyd.

Fast-forward, 2012, I start a — we start a church called Resurrection Houston, and we’re trying to break into the neighborhood. And Big Floyd was one of the first people to help us to, as a person of peace, open up the neighborhood, let people know that we’re OK, not to be suspicious of us, and that we’re doing good work. So, those are my first instances of coming in contact with Big Floyd.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pastor, I wanted to ask you: When you see, for instance, the images of our president, just this week, after clearing the protesters in front of the White House with tear gas and rubber bullets, then walking to a church nearby and holding up a Bible, your thoughts when you’ve seen those images, given the fact that the president has spent so little time talking about the tragic death of George Floyd and so much time attacking those who are protesting his death?

PASTOR PATRICK “P.T.” NGWOLO: So, I want to start out with this. I’m not a political animal. I’m neither a Democrat or a Republican. I’m actually a theocrat. And so, I speak from the outside looking in, prophetically this truth to power. And so the words I’m going to say, I mean, I think they come from a sense of prophetic pain rather than political pain.

To see our president, who I pray for, use God’s word to endorse state-sponsored violence against citizens of the United States, it brought me pain. And the behavior is wrong. The Bible says that a soft answer turns away wrath. Had he opened it, he would see that and would see that our country needs him to bring down the rhetoric, to bring people together, and, hopefully, bring this to a peaceful resolution. And so, I saw him do the opposite of what my Lord would do, and it pained me to see that. And I believe that that was wrong and that our president, humbly, needs to repent from that sin.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Roxie Washington, the mother of George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna. She was speaking at a news conference yesterday in Minneapolis.

ROXIE WASHINGTON: This is what those officers took from —

STEPHEN JACKSON: All right, baby.

ROXIE WASHINGTON: At the end of the day, they get to go home and be with their families. Gianna does not have a father. He will never see her grow up, graduate. He will never walk her down the aisle. If there’s a problem she’s having and she needs her dad, she does not have that anymore. I’m here for my baby, and I’m here for George, because I want justice for him. I want justice for him, because he was good. No matter what anybody thinks, he was good. And this is the proof that he was a good man.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Roxie Washington, the mother of George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, who was holding onto her, next to her. We’re going to end with Corey Paul. Corey, the importance that the “gentle giant,” that Big Floyd felt, being a father, and what you want to see happen right now, before the funeral on Tuesday that will take place in your town, in Houston?

COREY PAUL: Yeah. So, I feel like, predominantly, I can speak on, in communities around the nation that are disenfranchised, marginalized, low-income, all these communities that politicians and people in general say need change, need change and uplifting and all of these things, George was a leader of that movement. George was the advocate of change. George can’t simply be replaced. The neighborhoods that are spoken about oftentimes that need so much radical reformation, you can’t just drop in people or information for change. It has to be from a genuine, holistic place. And that’s what George represented inside of that community.

And I believe there are versions of what George represents all around the nation. But just like a person like George was able to be dehumanized and murdered, and now we have to even fight for justice, shows the lack of reverence and respect for those change makers, that maybe don’t look like what we think they should look like. But if you get a pulse from the culture and the people, as you can clearly see, these are the difference makers. And so, my prayer is that people will understand that it has to be a level of justice and respect and a humanizing factor for us, for people of color, in order for the change that’s happening to continue. And George fully embodied, through his life, everything that that represents, and I hope that we will forever be changed by it.

AMY GOODMAN: Corey Paul, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Houston hip-hop artist, entrepreneur, father. He was a friend of George Floyd. And we also want to thank Pastor Patrick “P.T.” Ngwolo. They worked alongside George with the church Resurrection Houston.

When we come back, we’re going to look at an FBI report. As President Trump blames antifa for the violence, well, the FBI didn’t find the evidence this weekend. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Houston DJ Screw’s version of “Sittin on Top of the World” by Big Floyd — that’s George Floyd — featuring Chris Ward and AD.

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