After George Floyd’s murder by police, his brother Philonise Floyd strives to turn ‘pain into purpose’
Philonise Floyd addressed students as part of Martin Luther King Jr. week events at Utah Valley University, urging their support of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
After his brother George Floyd was murdered in the custody of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, Philonise Floyd and his family involuntarily joined a “fraternity” of people whose loved ones died at the hands of law enforcement.
It left them “with no choice but to get out and speak,” Philonise Floyd told students and staff at Utah Valley University Thursday during a virtual presentation that was part of the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. week events.
“As I continue to speak about it, you always hear me say this is the only way you can turn your pain into purpose,” he said.
If people witness injustice, they must not turn a blind eye, Floyd said.
“Don’t allow what happened to my brother to happen to your brother. Help put laws in place to protect all citizens, not just for the elite and the chosen,” he said, urging the audience to get involved and to urge their friends, family and neighbors get involved, too.
“We’re stronger in numbers,” he said.
Floyd, who earlier in his career drove for the Utah-based trucking company C.R. England, now spends his days as an activist. He is intently focused on seeking the passage of the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The legislation cleared the House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate.
The act is intended to hold police accountable, end racial profiling, change the culture of law enforcement, and build trust between law enforcement and communities by addressing systemic racism and bias.
Asked if former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction and pleading guilty to federal civil rights violations meant justice had been served, Floyd said “there will be never be justice” for any family whose loved ones were killed by police or vigilantes because there’s no way to bring them back.
In his brother’s case, the trauma extended to people who witnessed Chauvin press his knee into George Floyd’s neck for several minutes causing his death. People in the crowd pleaded with Chauvin to stop. Some of the witnesses were children.
“The things that people seen and the people that witnessed what happened, there will never never be some type of justice for that,” he said.
All who watched the video of his brother’s death, which has had some 2 billion views, were impacted in some way, Floyd said. He believes his brother’s calls for their mother particularly affected mothers who saw it.
“That is one of the biggest reasons why the world exploded behind George Floyd,” he said.
Floyd said the day after his brother’s funeral he was whisked off in a private plane provided by actor and producer Tyler Perry to travel to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress.
“I never had a chance to grieve with my family,” he recounted. He had never been to Washington before, let alone subject to the intense media scrutiny and public attention that followed his brother’s death.
“I was nervous but I was determined to get my point across,” he said.
“I was heartbroken but I knew I had to get that message across. I didn’t care about 100 million cameras at the time. All I cared about was accountability for George Floyd,” he said.
Floyd said he, his family and all others seeking change and fighting for social justice have been through a lot this past year “and it’s not even done.”
“We’ve been through a lot individually and together but here we are, and we all are still standing, all of us. It comes down to humanity, compassion, basically your soul. What are you doing? What are you willing to do for the greater good? To me that’s, that’s the key to everything,” he said.
In a lighter moment, Floyd said when his brother entered a room, he made a point of greeting every person in the room individually.
Once, Philonise Floyd asked his brother why he did that.
“He would look at me and say, ‘Look at me. I’m huge. People fear me when they see me. So this is the reason I go and greet everybody, to let them know that I’m OK, I’m not a threat.’ I understood then why people loved him so much because anybody that was around him, they felt protected and they knew that they were going to get a good laugh and they knew that he was going to be able to pray with him,” he said.
When Philonise wants to feel close to his brother, he makes a banana and mayonnaise sandwich. George Floyd was their big brother, but he was no cook. If his siblings wanted something to eat, he made them his favorite sandwich.
“Follow me on Instagram, OK, because I’m trying to get everybody to follow it because I’m going to come up with a challenge and I want everybody to try the banana mayonnaise sandwich challenge. That way you’ll all be closer to George that day.”
Asked what else he does for self care as he has grieved his brother’s death, endured the trial, the worldwide movement for social justice and lobbying Congress, Floyd said he reads and studies the Bible and talks about scripture with his family. He goes fishing and spends time in quiet contemplation thinking about things his brother used to say.
He always said “Hey, man, don’t let nobody keep you down. God has put you here for a reason.”