In the year since George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin, the nation has undergone major social upheaval anchored by the massive demonstrations against police violence, a global pandemic and an economic crisis. Knowing that no amount of money can bring a loved one back, the Floyd’s family has remained focused on achieving justice and carrying the torch handed to them as they were thrust into the current chapter of the today’s Civil Rights Movement.
Floyd’s younger brother, Philonise, has been one of the primary voices taking a position of leadership and urging peace while reminding the world that behind the hashtag was a brother, uncle, son, and father. Now that the former officer who killed his brother has been convicted of murder, Floyd has set his sights on moving forward and being there for other families navigating the justice system through anger and loss of a loved on killed unjustly by the hands of police.
He spoke with journalist Soledad O’Brien for part of a three-night BET News special on the one year anniversary of his brother, which will premiere May 25. But he also took time to speak with BET.com in a phone interview to talk about his current outlook.
BET.com: It’s been a year since your brother’s passing and a couple of weeks since the trial. Do you think people understand what you’ve been trying to tell them all this time?
Philonise Floyd: I think people have grasped on their own behalf what’s going on. So many people in this world have seen that video. It was a horrific video, it was a barbaric tactic being shown and people were willing to get out and march in a pandemic because they said we don’t need any more George Floyds. People fight to get into this country for a reason. And without any justice for this, a senseless killing? Freedom for George means freedom for all and that’s the mentality that people took.
BET.com: You and your family have been thrust into the spotlight as Civil Rights leaders and you’ve joined a long line of people who became heroes after seeking justice like Rosa Parks, Mamie Till and others. Do you all feel you’ve been handed a torch of justice to carry?
Floyd: I think so. I was a truck driver and I was just thrown into this life. But the thing about it is, I get asked all the time: are you tired? How do you feel? They ask me different questions and I always tell them, I never realized that I had a platform. All I did was go out and fight on my brother’s behalf. But looking at all the other activists that have been fighting for justice, been fighting for accountability, I always tell them — and I will still continue to say — if you keep doing the work, somebody’s going to notice you just like I noticed all these activists. So the torch has been passed but I’m willing to pass it to others, because all we need to do is ignite more flames around the world.
BET.com: What else has changed in your life? Have you and the other members of your family had to make adjustments to take on these new roles?
Floyd: You know, the only adjustment we had to make was being able to be accounted for. People call all the time. That’s it. I was a truck driver, I talked on the phone 24/7. Just like I’m talking to you on the phone, this is normal. It’s just being able to have the time to be able to talk to everybody, because there’s so many people around the world. Not just here, I’m talking about in countries like Brazil, Italy, China, Spain, Switzerland, Ghana, everybody. They want to know your story, they want to know who George is.
BET.com: And what have you told them?
Floyd: The same things I tell everybody. The biggest part about it is everybody all around the world got to see him when I had the opportunity to testify for him and to talk about his character and who he was, for us.
He was an asset to us in our household. We slept in the same bed, did a lot of things together, played together; Tecmo Bowl, Double Dribble [laughs]. We did a lot of things around the house and outside of the house like football, catching and throwing. I watched him grow up right in front of me, meaning I watched him physically mark the wall for his height because he always wanted to be taller.
BET.com: Let’s get into the trial. It may have given your family a measure of justice, but that’s been elusive for others in similar situations. What are the other families telling you about what they have gone through or are going through?
Floyd: A lot of these families, they’ve felt down. They’ve felt out of it because they’re looking at what they’ve seen in the past. You can go to Rodney King, he had a video, he didn’t get any justice. You go to Eric Garner, he had a video, he didn’t get any justice. Everybody’s seen this video...a man being tortured to death in front of lots of people outside...people feel this system is not made for African American people and they feel like we don’t get justice; it’s just us.
So the fact that people heard “guilty,” “guilty,” and “guilty,” it made people cry. It made a lot of people tear up all around this world because they never thought that would have happened because they hadn’t seen it before. A lot of the people who are touched more than anything are the people who went through racial discrimination, who had to drink out of different water fountains, or had to go through the back door. They always stop and tell me, ‘thank you.’ Before they’d even seen ‘guilty, guilty, guilty,’ they would tell me thank you. Because they say I know this has taken a lot out of you because you lost someone who you love. And I tell them we all lost somebody that we love because you all wouldn’t be coming to me talking about it. And I say we’re fighting for everybody in this world right now.
BET.com: Chauvin is reportedly asking for a new trial. Is your family publicly advocating against that?
Floyd: No, of the things going on, everybody’s going to ask for a new trial. The person that killed Botham Jean, she wants an appeal. But when you look at the things going on with Mr. Chauvin, the federal charges against him, to me, I think people will feel like they are getting the full justice, and if that happens, the federal charges apply.
BET.com: I want to ask you about the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act. It’s having its challenges getting through Congress. What have you and your family done to garner more support for it?
Floyd: Being active and going to different places, speaking and engaging with others, with public officials and activists. They want to get out and they want to see what is right. That’s what people want. People want to feel comfortable, and they don't want to live in fear. So we’re marching and I think the fact that we get out, and we don't hide, and we meet in public with others, I think that motivates people. Because again, this is not a moment, this is a movement, and we need to keep pushing forward to elevate to the next tier if we want to be able to be successful in his world.
It's not about African Americans, it’s not about Caucasian, it's not about the Chinese. There’s only one race, and it's the human race. And we don't evolve around all the hatred that people have for each other, we’re no better than the rest.
BET.com: What lesson can the rest of us who watched everything happen over the last year take away from all this?
Floyd: I just think that everybody needs to stick together and stand in solidarity with each other. We’ve never seen a case of this magnitude before in life. We need to step back and just look. Just think about when I testified about his character, who he really was.
We all need to get to our councilmen and vote them in and vote in our local officials. We all need to get more involved in everything that's going on. If you elect the right officials, then it can help change a lot of things going on in this world.
Beginning May 25, BET will broadcast three nights of programming dedicated to the movement sparked by the call for justice for George Floyd. On May 25, “Bars and Ballads for George Floyd,” on May 26, "Justice Now: Race & Reckoning,” hosted by Soledad O’Brien, and on May 27, "Justice Now: The Way Forward."