Shy, contemplative and good-natured, George grew into a stout high school student, six feet tall. His dreams of becoming an athlete, the authors write, were shattered by “the cruel reality of growing up black and poor.”
“His Name Is George Floyd” impressively contextualizes Floyd’s struggles with drug addiction, frequent arrests, and a five-year prison sentence for aggravated theft in a crime he claimed had nothing to do with. Everywhere we see the portrait of a flawed man trying to come to terms with diminished dreams, someone whose muscular physical exterior hid a soft soul that battled pain, anxiety, claustrophobia and depression.
Samuels and Olorunnipa are committed to offering a capsule history of the structural roots of racism in the criminal justice and education systems — with their impact on wealth and home ownership — to tell Floyd’s story holistically. This doesn’t always make for a seamless story, but in many ways the book is stronger for it. They carefully examine the role Floyd’s mother played in her efforts to help him endure the perils of the Third Ward. Floyd inherited her expansive and resilient heart, a sensibility that both strengthened and jeopardized his efforts to find his way in the world.
By focusing on the disparate parts of the system of structural racism that influenced Floyd’s life, the authors allow readers to better understand and experience the latest humiliation that greeted him on May 25, when Chauvin, a officer with a history of brutalizing suspects, casually ended his life. Floyd’s painful final minutes, when he begged for his life, calling his recently deceased mother and begging for breath, may have come as no great surprise to him. He had always been afraid of being attacked, assaulted, or even shot by the police.
In death, Floyd has indeed “touched the whole world.” The racial and political reckoning of 2020, and its ongoing aftermath, can be traced back to the uprisings that followed the news of his death. Near the end of their book, the authors note that “George Floyd’s summer has not dismantled systemic racism in America”. This is certainly true, but it did move the nation closer to recognizing the structures that led to the largest social justice movement in American history. And for that alone, George Floyd’s life deserves not only to be remembered, but also to be honored.