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George Floyd Described As A 'Gentle Giant' By Friends

Friends of George Floyd watched in disbelief as the now-viral video played. It shows a handcuffed black man facedown on the street, pleading for his life. He's struggling to breathe as he's pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer's knee pressing into his neck.

The black man in the video was identified as Floyd, 46. He died Monday after he was taken to a hospital.

Friends describehim as a "gentle giant" — he was 6 feet, 7 inches — who grew up in Houston's Third Ward, a center of the city's African American community. A vigil was held this week at Houston's Emancipation Park, in the neighborhood where Floyd grew up.

He was remembered by friend Johnny Phillips, who told Houston's Fox affiliate that Floyd "was just a young guy that was athletic, fun to be around and was lovable."

Former NBA star Stephen Jackson met Floyd in high school, and they remained friends.

"He played two sports — football and basketball," Jackson said, speaking to the syndicated radio program The Breakfast Club.

Houston Public Media reports that Floyd was "talented enough to get a basketball scholarship from Florida State University." He didn't finish college there, instead returning to Houston to pursue another passion — making music. For a while in the 1990s, he performed under the name Big Floyd and collaborated with other artists in the local hip-hop scene.

Jackson said that where he and Floyd grew up, there could be a lot of fighting between neighborhoods. But he said Floyd was someone everyone liked.

"It makes me angry. It just hurts that people have that much hate," said Jackson, referring to the officers involved. Jackson says he worries about Floyd's two daughters now that they've lost their dad.

Jackson says Floyd moved to Minneapolis for work, driving trucks. He says Floyd was pulling his life back together after getting in trouble with the law and spending time in jail. By most accounts, Floyd was doing well in Minneapolis, where he found a new community.

The Star Tribune reports that for years Floyd had a security job at Conga Latin Bistro and was known for giving hugs to regulars. The restaurant's Facebook page paid tribute to Floyd, saying "he was a peaceful and loving man" who wouldn't have liked the "violence, vandalism and riots."

A second night of protests turned violent in the city, prompting Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to activate the National Guard on Thursday. But family and friends say they want the focus to be on Floyd, saying he was a good person.

"We need to see justice happen," his cousin Shareeduh Tate told CBS This Morning. She called Floyd's death a murder and wants police prosecuted. "We want to see them arrested. We want to see them charged. We want to see them convicted for what they did."

The four police officers involved in the arrest have been fired.

In a joint statement, U.S Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special Agent in Charge Rainer Drolshagen said they "are conducting a robust criminal investigation" headed by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the FBI's Minneapolis field office.

"If it is determined that there has been a violation of federal law, criminal charges will be sought," the statement said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.