I Can’t Breathe
Angela Harrelson and Paris Stevens are the aunt and cousin of George Floyd. Since George’s death, both Angela and Paris have been using their voices to speak up for justice. In this episode, Chanda, Angela, and Paris talk about the global impact of George’s murder, their reactions to Derek Chauvin’s trial, and the courage it takes to fight when you’re in pain.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:16
On today’s podcast, you will be hearing a conversation with me and two of George Floyd’s family members, Angela Harrelson, and Paris Stevens. In this conversation, we discuss how this last year has been since George Floyd passed away the moments that they witnessed the video, and they hope they have, for our community and beyond, moving forward. They shared with us our heartfelt memories of George when he was younger, the connection they had to his mother, and just the sheer devastation that they have felt in their lives over this period of time. In my reflection, and as we commemorate the devastation that happened on May 25, on 38th in Chicago, I can’t help but reflect on how my year has been, and where I was when I witnessed that video, last year. Over the last year of podcasts, you’ve heard me mention that my mother passed away last June, and when I think about my mother passing away, I think about the George flight video because she came home to my house two days before the video was released. When George Floyd called for his mother, it hit home for me in a way that touched my heart so deeply and will sit with me forever. It also moved me into action, and the work that we do with the Minneapolis foundation. While we had already been really deeply investing in criminal justice reform, particularly in bail reform efforts, it really pushed us to think more deeply not just about how we get into action following the horrific death of George Floyd, but what did we need to be challenging ourselves on internally? How we could be leading more boldly? How we need to be thinking about race, racism in our interactions with each other? This last year has been a deep exposure to the systemic inequities that exist within our community. We’ve appreciated all the listeners that have enjoyed this podcast over the year, and we invite you to go deeper, to continue to listen with us to continue to explore the historical context to partner and solution building to understand that we all do better when we all do better. We welcome you Angela and Paris to the Westminster Town Hall forum. We appreciate you both being here today on the anniversary of George Ford’s death, to talk with us and share your experience from the point of view of family members.
Angela Harrelson 03:14
I’m Angela Harrison. I am George Floyd’s Aunt. His mother is my sister. We come a family of 14 my mother had 10 girls and four boys. We come from a family of sharecroppers, so we didn’t have a lot of money, you know. No one had any money, we’d go to tobacco fields, corn fields, how we made a living. So we all came from humbling beginning, we also survived racism, you know. My great, our great grandfather Healy, Thomas Stewart was born a slave in 1856. By the time he was 21, he accumulate over 500 acres of land, but because he couldn’t read and write, it was stolen from him. So when all of this happened with Perry, it was a heavy hit because we we’ve already as black community as a family have lost so much and so a parent lived here in Minneapolis area. I live here and when all that happened, it was a hard hit for the whole family.
Chanda Smith Baker 04:15
Thank you for that Angela and Paris.
Paris Stevens 04:18
Hello, my name is Paris Stevens. I am cousin of George Floyd, we call him Perry. My mom and his mother, were sisters. My mom is one of the oldest of the 10 girls, they were very close, when caught his mother Cissy his real name, her real name was Larcenia, Perry and I, we had more of our connection. as teenagers. We would have family gatherings during the holidays and that’s the most of the time where we shared our moments together which were very happy moments, and we talked a lot about sports was our connection. We both wanted to be a bit, he wanted to be in the NBA, I wanted to be in the WNBA. So we talked, we talked a lot about that, I just want to thank everyone who has supported our family, we all had to go through this grieving process together, and it has been challenging for us to navigate and then to figure out our own ways to grieve, because there’s so many different layers to our, our family. So we want to thank you, and thank the whole world for supporting us. It’s been just unimaginable how much people care and with the way that his tragedy occurred, I think a lot of people could identify, but then it has really open the eyes of people and it’s forced them to come to the realization that yes, there is racism, there is white privilege, and bias, and, you know, racial injustice. Like I said, we just want to thank everyone for their support.
Chanda Smith Baker 06:19
Angela, you touched on a couple of things so sharecropping and the tobacco field, which many black families had sharecroppers following, sort of slavery, and you touched on the word slavery. Many people sort of make the connection of slavery to sort of where policing is today and when I think about sort of the violence that occurred in the south through slavery, and the sharecropping and Jim Crow, and to where we are today and as the family historian, I’m wondering how you thought about the loss, because you said, our family has already experienced, black people have experienced so much loss in connection to those things? How have you thought about that or what do you think is important to lift up in that sort of story and legacy of America?
Angela Harrelson 07:13
Well, you know, um, when it happened to Perry, you know, I thought about that, I said gosh, we’ve gone through so much and you wonder, for 400 years, people aren’t really listening and we as black and brown people to us, this whole racism, systemic racism, is what’s the sleeping giant. It truly is because we have been negotiating inequality for 400 years and even though we’ve been negotiating when I mean, we had to negotiate to vote. We even had to negotiate to ride the bus, because we have negotiated even the education because it was illegal for black and brown people to be educated in America. All of those things had to be negotiated and so going through that process, we’ve never had acknowledged that it was like slavery existed is abolished, get over it. That was a common attitude that we were received here as black and brown people. So when Perry’s death happened, one thing that I want to say the acknowledgement was finally here, the awareness was here, now the word systemic racism is use so commonly, and it took that death, his death, because it was so inhumane that it literally woke up the sleeping giant. Now, it was a real awakening, I think, for white Americans, because they’ve heard our cry before, but our cry wasn’t loud enough, until they saw that awful death that took place in Minneapolis. So I look at all of that, and I see the pain that as black and brown people we went through and the struggle is real, the struggle is real, but now I see hope more, hope, more mean, to me. It’s like now we have something, even though it was so grim and so dark, hope is more real to us. because people are listening to us. There’s no more denial about the process of inequality. So many things are happening, to help our race to be recognized and to have equality programs, programs about injustice and that is what I’m looking forward to.
Chanda Smith Baker 09:37
It’s really interesting when I hear you talk about George Perry Floyd, and you talk about sort of what happened to him and us interchangeably, in terms of us as a community and him as a family member, and Paris, I’m curious if you feel the same way that It was pivotal in terms of the legacy and you never know why people are put on Earth but do you feel the same way that this is opened up a moment for the world to see the experiences of the black community in a different way?
Paris Stevens 10:18
I do, I definitely did and like you said, people are put on earth for specific reason and this tragedy that happened, it did change the world, like his daughter said. He changed the world, it forced people to have conversations. You can no longer say that this doesn’t exist. Conversations that were uncomfortable, are now becoming the norm. It’s what should happen every day, I say, now that no one gets that. So if injustice is taking place, or continuous change to happen, we have to address it immediately. We can no longer say we’re not going to be confrontational, only have to be politically correct. I feel that we have to address problems as they occur and that has to happen, even in grade school, all the way up into elder adulthood. It doesn’t start with just police officers. It is a community problem. It’s a public problem with injustice.
Chanda Smith Baker 11:38
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. We’re sitting here on the anniversary of that murder and I think that there has been a number of incidents that have happened in our history, where you remember where you were, you remember what you had on, you remember who you were with and for me, this is going to be one of those moments where there was sort of a collection of things that were happening in my world that made it even more tender, even more impactful on top of just the horrific nature of how he suffered in his final 10 minutes or so, and I’m wondering if you might be willing, once again, because I know you’ve been asked this question, but if you could share with us just the impact of that, because what most of us have had to grieve and we’ve suffered loss in our families, many of us and hopefully most of us will never have to suffer out loud in the way that you all have and to share that grief with the world but could you provide us a little bit of insight in terms of how you found out and with that, watching that video, how that video watching impact at you and I’ll start with you, Angela.
Angela Harrelson 12:49
Yeah, I actually did not, no, no, he was killed to like a day after, on a Tuesday, I believe. I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t hear no cause, no family and nothing. So to me, I woke up it was like a normal day. When I did find out it was to a news reporter or some type of media and I remember so clearly I answered the phone that day and he said, are you Angela Harrelson? I said, well, yes, I am. He said, I’m calling about the murder of your nephew, George Floyd who was killed about a Minneapolis police. Now I’m thinking, because we know him as Perry, the whole family, we all call him Perry. You guys know him as George Floyd. So I’m thinking, well, he must got the wrong family, because I haven’t heard anything, but I knew there was something in his tone, that was serious. but I honestly thought he had the wrong family. When he asked me again, he said, Are you Angela Harrelson? I said yes, I am. He said I’m calling about the murder of your nephew, George Floyd, who was killed by the Minneapolis police, and I’m thinking boy, I wonder what family, you know cause it, honestly, it was nothing was clicking, registering me. I remember saying, you know, he must have the wrong family. So I put the phone down. I hung it up, but something is like bothering me. It was like a nagging spirit. So I, something said check your messages. I check my messages, and I have these text messages, you know, call me, call ASAP, and then some just, you know, my okay, I’m getting nervous here, and then I checked my voicemail, and it was my sister’s and call, you need to call ASAP. I’m like, Oh my God, what is going on? Because I’m still, so I remember calling and the first words that came out of my siblings mouth, Perry is dead. Police killed Perry, turn the TV on, and my mind went back to that telephone call, just like that. Then I heard my husband yelling, “Angela, you need to come in here.” So my mind is just all over the place, and I remember I ran in there and the minute I walked into the living room, that’s where Perry was on his stomach, handcuffed, and the words, right, I walked into the word, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” and everything was going there, and then I heard him say, Mama, Mama, and he was gone. And I’m saying to myself, what in the world, did I just watch, because it’s like, my whole life just flipped. I was started crying. I was angry, I got a little hostile. My emotion was all over the place. My husband was trying to calm me down. He was telling me I was gonna be okay and I’m like, no, it’s not okay. So I get back on the phone. Excuse me in a minute. Okay, so I get back on the phone and I started calling my family. I was trying to do three way calls I was trying to do for a week, I was trying is call everybody and I look back on it. I was looking. I was trying to get a different answer than what I knew. I was calling everybody and they were telling me the same thing and so I just remember, I just trying to take all this in, and I was numb, and I remember sitting there, and I saw my husband just stayed with me. I said, just, I just need some time, because, honestly, all my emotions was all over the place and that was, I just didn’t know what to do. I was lost. I was that day I was lost.
Chanda Smith Baker 16:58
Paris, how about for you?
Paris Stevens 17:02
Well, I had worked late that night, and so like, early in the morning, we had an uncle that and my brother is and he was in Saudi Arabia at the time and he had sent me a message with the video. He said, you need to look at this, Perry, dead. What? So I clicked on the video to watch it, and I was like, that can’t be this, this isn’t happening. So I laid there for a while and then I clicked back on the video again, and I was like, is this really him, and I was watching the officer, and I was like.. he’s just gonna kneel on for all this time and not come to a realization that this is wrong. I mean, you can hear the voice, him saying I can’t breathe, and I’m like, you’re still not gonna move as an officer, who was supposed to protect us, and so my mom came in, and she was like, have you heard? Have you seen? I was like, is this really him? I said so, I’m still in disbelief. I said, so they put him in the ambulance, right, and he’s alive, right? No, he’s not alive. He died.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:07
What did you say? Angela?
Angela Harrelson 19:08
I said he didn’t make it. He predicts his own funeral that day. He literally predicts his own funeral that day.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:15
What do you mean by that?
Angela Harrelson 19:17
Because, he was there, and he was calling out, and he said things like, especially going to the trial. Tell my kids I love them. They’re gonna kill me. I can’t breathe and he wanted his family to know that he loved them. So that’s why I say that. He fought. He fought I tell people he fought for nine minutes and 29 seconds. He was fighting to live and when he was asking, Mr. Chauvin and when he was telling him, I can’t breathe, all he was trying to do was ask for help. That’s all he was trying to do, and he was being, what I saw being mock, and I tell people, when you ask someone for help, you’re not looking at that person as a monster. You don’t ask a monster for help. You’re looking at that person, momentarily, or whatever, as a human being helped me I’m in trouble, and like Mr. Chauvin, the problem was that he didn’t have a big enough heart to look at our nephew as a human being. He just saw a black man that he thought was, you know, on drugs, and you know, and you know, so as another black man that probably has problems and so whatever he wasn’t looking at him as a human being, but Perry looked at him that way. I tried to ask him for help.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:13
There are times that I wonder what those videos mean to the families that we have seen, be brought into this level of devastation and in this case, the video was so instrumental and holding Derek Chauvin accountable for George Floyd’s death but I can clearly feel how difficult that was for your family, but are you grateful that the video was taken?
Angela Harrelson 21:45
Yeah, I am. Even though, as devastating as it was to watch, if we didn’t have that video, if that young girl, she was only 17, at the time, Daniela Frazier. If she did not hold, have the bravery enough to hold that video there for nearly 10 minutes, that would not even be a case. It would be another black man that die in the hands of police and nobody would know why. We’ll be forced to take the word of the police.
Chanda Smith Baker 22:24
Paris, are you convince that it wouldn’t have gone anywhere without the video?
Paris Stevens 22:29
Now, I’m not 100% sure that we would, it was still being fair where against, not his work seems that, but history shows itself that if we don’t have something viable and otherwise, that they’re not going to be held accountable. There are so many cases right now, there’s not enough evidence, and they can’t even, they won’t even charge them, not allowed to have a trial. You can see in many cases where you do have a video and they don’t get trial. So you, for color people to have accountability, we have to have evidence 100% of the videos, body cameras, there can be nothing left for interpretation. With this video, there was no there was no room to say well, no, he, he didn’t kill him, because it was right there and playing out in everyone’s eyes. You couldn’t come up with anything else.
Angela Harrelson 24:03
After he was killed, the police officers did the report, they did come up with something, but what they reported was he was a black man was arrested, and he died of medical calls. So they tried to cover it up, but when the video came, they had to pull out that story, and right now because of that there’s an investigation going on in the Minneapolis police department.
Chanda Smith Baker 24:32
Before we go to the investigation, I was struck by the fact that you called Derek Chauvin, Mr. Chauvin and then you talked about George looking at him and seeing his humanity, but not that not being reciprocated, where, have you forgiven him?
Angela Harrelson 24:50
It’s a work in progress because I don’t want to be held as a prisoner, having hatreds, and angry and hostile, and be in that dark place, you know, we’ve already given him too much recognition as it is today, you know. So I can’t carry around his hatred, because all it does it keep you prisoner and you know, and no one deserves that. So it’s a process that I started working towards. It’s a healing process for me. I know that forgiveness does not exonerate anyone from their crime, you know, just because you forgive a person doesn’t mean that you that you don’t think they should be held accountable. It’s about the process for me healing myself through the process, and so I can build up strength to be able to go on to continue this fight for others. That’s what it is, for me is a working process I have to work towards, because I don’t, I can’t bottle up get hate and anger. I don’t come from that background. My parents didn’t raise me that way to have hatred. When reasons a reason we probably shouldn’t have hatred, how we’ve been treated through the years, but the point is, is love and hope that has got many black families forward. When you think about that’s how we got forward, going on through this process. We had to hold on to hope and love and work together for odd to fight for the fight. We had to do that.
Chanda Smith Baker 26:36
Now, Paris, do you have forgiveness in your heart, or where are you at on that continuum?
Paris Stevens 26:43
Yeah, I do, but it is, I have to be honest it’s very challenging. Especially, when, you know, we had continuously talk about it, and it replays in your mind how Perry suffer, but you know, he was brave at the same time, but we are a Christian family. I am a Christian, and I know that you have to forgive to make it into the pearly gates and that’s where I want to be. So not gonna ever forget, no. So we got to focus our vision on continuing this journey, always walking the walk. So we got to continue on as a family, as community work on the process of injustice. That is my focus, we you will hold yourself in in a jail right along with them, if you’re holding in that hate, but it is difficult. It’s very difficult.
Chanda Smith Baker 28:08
Yeah, after, after the video comes out, it’s now Tuesday, and now you see community reacting. Right? You see people taken to the streets, you see the fire starting not just here, but across the country. You see the globe has tuned in and said this is this, this should have never happened. This should not be tolerated. So you go from seeing it and being deeply personal to a family members to the world identifying with your pain and your loss. How did that or did that hold you up, like what what did that global response do for you, Paris?
Paris Stevens 28:51
I was like, oh my gosh, people are with us. When we are down and trying to hold it together, we have people that are out there protesting. I thought that that was an amazing thing. To know that people across the world protest and come together, and I always say that as long as you have a heartbeat, you can change and I think some hearts changed. So there is positive and hope, you know, we’re in a timeframe right now that people are not going to tolerate too much as you can see. I understand completely. I understand their protest and I understand why some it would turn a little violent or there were you know, knocking down monuments and whatnot but thought understand their pain because they felt like no one was listening for hundreds of years. We’ve done a peaceful walk, you know, ask for equality, and so I would have to explain to my co workers why, for why are they tearing down the monuments of Washington DC. I said, are you really concerned about monuments? Are you really, I’m thinking that can be rebuilt, but life cannot be rebuilt. I can’t have my Aunt Cissy go ahead and have another Perry, you know? So I said, you have to look at it from a different perspective. We are all tired of the injustice, and it’s a as a systemic problem, and through that protest, you can see what people were going through and what they were feeling what their emotions what I was so proud of the world coming together, coming to our fight.
Chanda Smith Baker 31:02
When we were grieving in that moment. Yeah, and I can see you thinking, What are you thinking about that?
Angela Harrelson 31:09
Yeah, I mean, living in Minneapolis, where it all went down. Oh, my goodness, you know, I was just angry. I’m gonna be honest, I was angry. So when they were like, protesting, and rioting and burning down police stations, I was so angry, I couldn’t even think I have empathy for that, what’s happening to the buildings. I just didn’t want to talk about it. I just want to use, you know, it was a place where I don’t want to right now I’m trying to get through this. I got to get through. I’m broken right now. I can’t worry about what building got burned down, then I had reached a point where, you know, I reached a point where I kind of shut down, then people, my phone was ringing, Angela, they’re burning down a police station, ask are you okay? People want to know what’s happening to me. They were trying to find, where’s George Floyd, I know he has an Aunt here. The media was at me. So I had all this stuff going on, and then I remember getting this call from Bethlehem. Bethlehem on FaceTime, I was like, really, we’re doing a protest for your nephew and then I remember getting other messages from somebody in Germany, Switzerland, Bulgaria, and I’m like, I’m like, Oh, my God, what happened? You know, it was like, because all this was going on in Minnesota, and they were protesting, and I finally realized it was a domino effect. Because to me at the time, I was just in Minnesota, in my own world, I didn’t realize how big it has gotten until I started getting messages, and you know, because then I shut myself away, I really wasn’t communicating with people, but people could still send me messages, they could still FaceTime me, and when I started getting outside messages from outside the country, having empathy for me, then I realized this is this is huge. This is much bigger than I could even imagine, because when Minneapolis, even though people hear about the rioting, they hear about the protesting, but one thing they don’t know, and that Minneapolis community on 38th Street in Chicago, they were trying to keep that place sacred, where Perry was killed. They had people in the community barricade each intersection off, because even though there was burning and protesting, one, that community came together, and they said we got we got to keep that area safe. We won’t let that area burn down. I got to give it to that community, they were strong, and they held it up when I couldn’t. I was too broken and they lifted me up, and they protected that site with all this chaos that was going on, that many of the community stepped up in the midst of it all, and kept that place sacred.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:27
It’s a year later, and so in reflection, what has the last year been like for you?
Angela Harrelson 34:34
Oh, my goodness. You know, I must say that this gave me a purpose. I didn’t realize what my purpose was at the time. I didn’t realize I had a purpose. I was just so broken up, but, it gave me a purpose, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to should go out to be an activist. I don’t know where to start. I think the thing is, I didn’t know if, if I will be, if I would do it the right way, because everything was just so new, and so painful initially, but I always went back to the image and hear Perry’s voice up here, I’m sorry, Perry’s voice, when he was saying, I can’t breathe in that environment, and it took a lot of strength to say I can’t breathe. It, honestly, it takes courage to fight for nine minutes and 29 seconds, especially when you’re in pain, when you’re in a place of darkness, when you’re scared, when you’re terrorized, when you have fear, and that takes strength to do it, because you don’t have much left. So I always said, and this was and God made this clear to me that if Perry can do this, and managed to say, I can’t breathe in those conditions, then I can find a way, the strength to be a voice for him, and to go out, and that’s what I did, and I learned, I started doing that, and I became stronger, I found my purpose. My voice became a bigger voice, and, and for a year from now, I’ve gotten stronger, and I’m working together with my niece co-chair of George Floyd Memorial, I never thought I would be able to do that. So I learned so much about myself, and I learned things about Perry that I didn’t know, as well, you know, through the process of growing one thing about it, you know, I remember initially going to the memorial site. There are many times I was sad, you know, I would come there and I would pray to myself, you know, I have a moment of silence, but a year from now, especially after the first verdict, I go then now with a quiet, quiet confidence. I have a different walk when I go there, because I feel now when I go to his, my boy to see him, you know, I can say Perry, you can be at peace now, because not me, not my family, not the world, we all did this for you. We held on and we and we got a verdict today, and I said now I feel proud. I have something to take when I go there now and that makes me proud.
Chanda Smith Baker 37:49
There is absolutely nothing to be sorry about. Paris in reflection, what is this last year been like for you?
Paris Stevens 37:59
It’s been, it’s been a whirlwind. Like you never think that you’re going to be at the forefront of something, you know. You see it happen to other people all the time, way too often, but when it comes to your front door, it’s unimaginable. So, in the beginning, there was so much pain and hurt, you know, still wondering, you know why in the 21st century, why do we continue to have to go through this, and other races there, but it’s always us. Through the year, I’ve gotten stronger, has said, we love each other a lot, my mother as well, so I have a close knit group that I talked to constantly. That is so, so supportive. A lot of times in my perspective with politicians, they were heartless and not honest, and so with this happening, I was like, well, I have to be different. I have to use my voice now, I can no longer stand in the background, and let others do the groundwork, which is what I felt I did maybe when other incidents have occurred. I’ve always said oh my God, that’s not right. How can they do that? How can they do that to Trayvon Martin, to Breonna Taylor and so many others and until way back in the day How can we do this? How can we let it but wasn’t doing enough? So now that this has happened, I feel like I have to do, I want to do this, continue on this journey to fight for equality, and to break down those barriers of systemic racism. We are now in this forefront where we can no longer be silent, and I am now one of those people who are close, has another who has another calling. We’re both nurses by trade, so we already have that nursing factor. So it may be it was second nature, but it pushed us to do something outside of that, and I just don’t know if that I would have been able to do this, it’s unfortunate that Perry passed away, I don’t know if I would have been fighting in this, you know. I’m glad that I’m here, and that hopefully that I can help change, what’s the one, that’s we have, we have to continue in its community. I can’t do it alone, Angela, she can’t do it alone, it’s going to take all of us, but I’m going to be in the front.
Chanda Smith Baker 41:26
You’re going to be in the front. I think we’ve learned that more clearly over the last year. If it hasn’t become clear, it should be clear now that this really is a space that we all need to be in if we want a different sort of racial understanding in this country in our city. If we want justice to happen, we need all of us, and Paris, you mentioned politician, so this naturally leads me to our Attorney General Keith Ellison, who led the prosecution, and you know, I have known Keith since he was in law school, so I felt comfortable calling him Keith, but you know, what a phenomenal job and, you know, I don’t know, I watched every second of that trial, it felt like history in the making. I just want our listeners to hear you talk about sort of the days of the trial and what the verdict meant for you, and I don’t want to guide it too much, because I want you just to share what that experience was, but I can see you nodding, Paris, maybe I’ll start with you.
Paris Stevens 42:28
I don’t think I’ve watched a trial like this before, since the LJ Simpson, you know. I want to thank our criminal team they did, you know, an amazing job putting a whole case together, building from beginning to end, but you know, it just replayed over and over again the video. It was profound, and to listen to the accounts of the witnesses, it just, it just breaks your heart. They had to deal with this trauma then, dealing with it in between, dealing with it, their trauma during the trial, and now dealing with it after. They will always have some conversation and that part is it’s very sad that they will have that, but they were brave in the same token to stay in there, also fighting for care and being courageous. They could have that in their own self trying to intervene with those officers, but they felt compelled to stand their ground and to be in the moment, and they range from what she was nine years old, to someone else that was elderly. The gentleman with the glasses zone, Lord have mercy. It just it just broke your heart to hear their pain and their struggle of what do I need to do? Feeling guilty about not being able to do more, but what position to be to know that an officer, horrible for their, in all did the wrong thing. They watched the lynching in front of their eyes. How do you come back from it? So I pray for them, that God and give them strength to get through this. You know, hopefully they will have a good support system because they will need it, and then with the burden, it was a relief. It was one of the burdens have lifted off, lifted off of our shoulders. You know, and we see that well. Perhaps this can set a precedent that if you commit a crime, you will be held accountable. Hopefully this does set a precedent.
Angela Harrelson 45:19
Yes, it has. The child, oh, my goodness, for me it was an emotional roller coaster. I started off saying, you know what I’m gonna try. I’m gonna be the jury selection. I’m gonna be there as much as I can, even though the judge said one family member at a time in the courtroom, and I say I live in many Minnesota. I want to try to get there as often as I can, in case people can’t travel from out of town. I thought I was strong enough. The third day, I was just like drenched, because ours is emotional. It’s like an emotional breakdown, here and all of these testimonies. This is the first time I have seen some of these people, the nine-year-old girl, like my niece mentioned, the martial arts fighter, the firefighter, of the elderly person trot out in trying to help. There was a young guy, the store clerk, when they met with Perry, they showed him in the video when Perry came into the store, and you know, he was in there and I saw Perry. He was in there smiling and dancing. You know, I’m be honest, that was good to see Perry in there, doing this little dance, he shuffled to the front. He didn’t do, he did the dance into the back, and he was in a good mood in that store, and that part of the video made me smile, and then something hit me and said, you know what, Angela, that’s gonna be the last dance that Perry’s gonna do and he don’t even know it. I’m like, oh, my God, and that clerk that was in there, the guilt that he had, that he said, if he knew that this was gonna happen, he would have never said anything about the $20 bill. So there he is carrying that guilt. The witnesses, they will have to really brave like my niece said, one of the things that I can say that really, really impressed me was the police officers testimonies. I know the police officers have a coke. They don’t really tell them, one another well, and to see them testifying and saying this is wrong, even the chief of police testified, there’s trading expert testified, on the prosecution side, that was historic, that juicy, just don’t happen. What I saw people stepped up, they stepped up, and it just made me feel proud, and they didn’t hold back. They did what was right, and you know, America needed his verdict to be guilty. 400 years of this going back and forth, so many wrongs have been done. We America needed to make this right, and they did it with that verdict.
Chanda Smith Baker 48:39
Did it feel like justice? Because we’ve had this you know, was it justice? Was it accountability? Was it both, did it feel like justice for your family?
Angela Harrelson 48:48
I, everyone know it was accountability. People going back and forth to justice, but not the justice thing because Perry is not here. We know Perry is never coming back, but to me, it felt like justice, because so much what we have been going through to get this far. You know, people sing that song to change is gonna come by Sam Cook, change is here because of the death, and sure we have a ways to go, but this this was a historic moment. I felt so much relief, and I felt like that verdict gave us the validation that we’ve all have been looking for, and been complaining about, that systemic racism is real. You know, systemic racism, you know, I tell people all the time, that terminology is really nothing, really new. It just came to develop because of the black codes, the slave code laws, also was the copy and the Jim Crow laws. All of these crazy laws that they had hold us back from going forward, and all they did was just restructure these laws and policies to make it difficult for black America to go forward, you know, because systemic racism, all these laws were put into, to hold us back in the school system, the employment system, the legal system, judicial system, the health care system. So today, we just call it systemic racism. Equality should not be an option for black and brown people. It is our birthright and that’s, and that’s the problem. With so many years, equality was made an option for us, and when you actually think about that, that’s crazy.
Chanda Smith Baker 50:58
Angela, you shared earlier that throughout the year, you got to learn a little bit more about your nephew. While most of us got to know him in his final moments, and through his death, you all knew him in his life and I’m wondering if you could share just a little story with us because he has captivated us beyond those almost 10 moments, and we know that he wanted to be an NBA player, Paris and you wanted to be in the WNBA. Could you could you all just give us something about who he was a little story or something so that we can know him and see him beyond those moments.
Angela Harrelson 51:41
Yeah. I first laid eyes on Perry, because, I’m so, it’s a 12 years age difference. I first laid eyes on him when was four years old. I remember him to the house running around with no shoes on, outside just back this old pet song outside. He was very free spirit, but he was an adaptable kid, because like I said earlier, we came from humble beginnings. We had a well where we pump water. We had an outhouse, and so when my sister Cissy would bring the kids over, she had job back then. It was Jaja, his two sisters, Jaja, and Tanya, and Perry, and Perry, you know, he was really adaptable, I mean, he would get, he was standing on that little, I don’t know what they call it back then the little stop, and he would try to take his little hands and try to pump the water, you know, and you know, when he had to go, you know, use the outhouse he just did it. It’s like was normal. So he really was adaptable to a lot of stuff, and I remember that, that there was a TV show in the 70s called, it was 70s or 80s I can’t remember, The Flip Wilson Show and me and my sister we thought he looked just like Flip Wilson, honestly, and people don’t know who he was, but he was a comedian that did a lot of drag queen, and I want, I told my sister Cissy, why don’t we put like a wig on the head, and see Perry say, say that little tagline that Flip used to say what you see is what you get, and I want to, no, my boy isn’t doing that. So anyway, so that was one of the some of the moments that we had, but some of the other moments is when Perry first met his father. He was a teenager, because my sister was raising her kids from a single parent, and Perry hadn’t seen his father in years, and I remember, it was me, it was Perry, it was my mother, his grandmother, and I think it was a couple more people in that car, and I remember knocking on, someone knocking on their car on the window, and I looked at it was Perry’s father, Perry Sr. Perry hadn’t seen him and God knows, and he was got quiet, and he said, hi, I’m your dad, and the car, it’s so quiet, and I remember Perry said hi, but I don’t know what he just froze, and, you know, Perry Sr. said a few words and he was gone, and I, you know, and I tell that moment, because I was, I think I’m probably in my 30s at that time, but that was I think that might have been a pivotal, pivotal moment for him, because he never really talked about it, and that was one conversation that I regret not having to talk to him about it in Minnesota. He really felt about that day, because even though I was the aunt that was here, I can teach him how to be a man and I felt like that was something that he really, really needed in his young adult life and throughout his life, because, you know, Perry wasn’t perfect. You know, we talked about his prison time, we talked about his incarceration, and I’m in my period telling me, you know, I regret my decisions, but I’m gonna try to be a better man for my kids, and for my mom, and that meant something to him, you know, cuz he did have his challenges with sobriety. He did have his struggle with it, and he talked about is that what people don’t realize was very spiritual. Perry was very spiritual, he read that Bible all the times. His favorite scriptures were in Proverbs, you know. He was talking about even having a church one day, and Perry love to go boating. I didn’t know he even like boating. He’s about six or eight, I’m like really, I always see him learning. I think because of his humble beginnings, when you hear people say he was a gentle giant, it all came for the fact of humble beginnings. You know, growing up and being around, you know, outhouses and things and pumping water and seeing his mother work as a single mother, trying to raise him and being the only the eldest son trying to do the best that he can with mom, and that’s where they came from, because he was a mama’s boy.
Chanda Smith Baker 56:36
Oh, I can tell that in those photos I’ve seen. He seem like he sat underneath his mom. Paris, what memory do you have to share?
Paris Stevens 56:47
He was a person that when he came into the room, he could light up, light up the room, and not really, didn’t have to say anything, because his presence alone was so, so strong. He was, he was likable. People in the communities, they just like, they like to be around him. He was tall ever since I physically laid eyes on him, I was probably like 11 or 12, but he’s always been taller at this stature, so friendly and easy to talk to and was funny, he was talented. He could do almost everything very, very well. So not just basketball, football and rapping. He actually was on a song called “Sitting On Top of The World,” and he was so well known, used to even as a rapper. So, you know, he has so many qualities that just ton, walk in million dollars.
Angela Harrelson 57:59
And, you know, he and my sister they join church together. They join church together, and I thought it was cute, you know, and she was in a wheelchair, and he took her to church, and they joined church together.
Chanda Smith Baker 58:13
That’s a special moment. Yeah, that’s pretty special. So as we wrap this conversation, I appreciate you sharing with us, and putting it you know, the emotion out there, and I recognize to the extent that I can, how difficult this day, this year, that moment was and, but I also appreciate so much the faithfulness that I feel through your comments, your orientation towards progress. Your orientation towards hope, that progress has been made, and that we have to keep pressing for things to continue. We have a precedent, but we don’t have, you know, so we need to make sure that this is continuing, and so as part of that continuation and hope and you guys activating, not knowing what your purpose was not knowing what this year would bring, but it brought you all closer together and you co founded something together to continue Perry’s legacy. Can you share what that is, and tell us about your work and what your hope is for that?
Angela Harrelson 59:33
Yeah, we both started with Jeanelle Austin, and my co chair is, of course, Paris. What we started with what we call the George Floyd Global Memorial because so many people around the world kept coming to the site, and they can’t land down these drawings, these paintings, there were even sculptures to have because people want to send us so we started to have a museum. We have a public gallery now and we’re hoping to build this into a museum. So we can put all these preserved things that we have preserved. We have a conservation preserving team that do all of that and so we’re like we have, oh my God, so many beautiful artwork, that people have poured their pain that can, whatever they were feeling, they put in that picture that drawing, even kids, and so we’re hoping to not just show that artwork, and the sculpture that we that we’re going to get and paintings, we also want to, we start with a community, have program, educational programs, have art programs, be able to reinvest back into that community, and we want to offer something special and grow the community, give something back, reinvest back in the community, and we want to have something nice. So when people come around, you know, they feel comfortable, they feel welcome, but when they come in, they feel something really special. Because right now we go there, you never feel the same way when you leave. We want others to continue to have this experience, through this experience is that, through the experience it from what we experienced and from what other people experienced, when they come to the George Floyd Golden Memorial, they can take that back, and we’d be able to continue that legacy throughout the world.
Paris Stevens 1:01:28
We call it the living memorial, as we’re going to continue his legacy, and it’s not just only Perry but is for those who have lost someone, tragically due to brutality. We want to continue to have a place where people can come from all over the world to see what has taken place from the moment that Perry passed away all through the month till now to the future.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:02:06
Yes, I guess I do have one more question, and you guys talked about, you mentioned Emmett Till, and you talked about the other families, and I know that you had a chance, I believe you had a chance to meet with Deborah Watts, Emmett Till’s cousin, and I know that you’ve maybe spent time with some of the other family members and Valerie Castile, what are those conversations been like?
Angela Harrelson 1:02:29
Well, my recent conversation, actually, good question. Yes, that was with Dante Wright, because of another family just recently got killed, I guess the police officer that did the taser and the gun, and unfortunately, she lost her 20 year old son, and we actually taught we just had a conversation yesterday. The conversation that often like the most recent conversations you have, we go over, we just we lived the moment, you know, and it was very important for her to relive the moments, because where she is now is where I was a year ago. So she said just really need to have someone to really talk to, you know, that really, really can understand the magnitude of this what she’s going through. Because you know, when you’re going through this, you’re dealing with the public, because you’re not, you’re not the only one just grieving now. You’re grieving with the public, and sometimes it can be very overwhelming. So we talked about her missing her son a lot, which was Mother’s Day came up. That was the reason why the call and she said, you know, people were saying Happy Mother’s Day, and she knew that she said, Angela, I know they mean well, please. I know they mean well, but I just don’t feel complete because I’m missing one. She has seven children, and when people said Mother’s Day, they were trying to you know, make it they would try to make her feel good, but she said you know, I just didn’t feel complete today because I’m missing one, and it broke my heart, because I myself forgot about, you know, Mother’s Day a little bit, you know.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:04:16
You know, George was killed two days after my mom came home to my house for hospice. So my story is a little bit around my mom, and I hear him call for his mom as I knew my mom was transitioning in her life, and it took me a long time but I cannot disconnect those two moments. She came home Friday. This happened on a Monday and him calling for his mom put me over the top, thinking about Mother’s Day and you know I’m a mother of five and you know, obviously I love every minute and every day of being their mother, but I miss my mom, and so it was a bittersweet day for me on that day, you know. I can’t imagine having that immediate loss and having it in the way that Daunte Wright’s mother is experiencing it without knowing what type of justice will happen for her and her family. I appreciate you both so much. Is there anything you want to say?
Angela Harrelson 1:05:26
I just want to say thank you for allowing us to use your platform to continue this legacy, and like I always say must not let his death be his last word. Yes, keep walking the walk,
Chanda Smith Baker 1:05:39
Keep talking the talk, keep it moving right. I will be praying for you and your family. And I will be keeping track of how you are curating that artwork, matter of fact, Ms. Valerie Castile’s, the Mia Art Museum here, hosted a show, they curated I think 17 to 19 pieces of art that came in the week following Philando’s death, and they had an exhibit there that was curated in connection with community to make sure that the broader community got a sense of some of the amazing pieces that were, as you said, sort of pain transformed and pieces of art that showed up and she has, you know, in her house and trying to figure out what to do with those pieces. So I really have a deep appreciation for you all trying to capture, capture that and to allow for the rest of us to have a glimmer into what people were experiencing and how that showed up for them.
Angela Harrelson 1:06:50
Yes, thank you, it gives us a chance to narrate, to narrate this story, because in history historically, when things happen, unfortunately, black people didn’t get a chance to narrate historic, because in the history books that is told there’s so many things has been left out. I didn’t read about the Emmett Till’s in the history books when I was growing up. I didn’t read about the Jesse Washington you know, people forget about Jesse was he was that there was a 17 year old boy burned alive. Lynched him in the 1600s. So this we get a chance we do this and have that museum, us as black narrate our story.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:07:36
Right on. Right on if I can be helpful I will. Thank you. Well, thank you both. Have a great day. Thank you.
Souphak Kienitz 1:07:49
That’s Angela Harrelson, Paris Stevens and our host Chanda Smith Baker. Thanks again to target for sponsoring this episode. This conversation was in partnership with Westminster Town Hall forum on a special racial justice series in this month of May. If you’re interested in sponsoring this conversation and looking for ways to do more, please contact us. You can find more information on our website at minneapolisfoundation.org or just simply give us a call. If you like this episode, you can tweet Chanda @chandasbaker and let her know or leave us a review and follow us wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you to Sarah Gillund for making our art work and copy for this episode, and thank you to Darlynn Benjamin for coordinating and making this conversation happen. This is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis foundation. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you soon.Close Transcript -
Angela Harrelson is the aunt George Floyd. George moved to Minneapolis three years ago to be closer to Angela and to build a new life. An unmarried father of three, George wanted to escape the low-income Houston neighborhood where he grew up. Angela promised his mother that she would look after him. Before her nephew’s death, she felt people didn’t want to talk about racism even in progressive cities like Minneapolis. Now, she’s encouraged that there’s a conversation about it across the country. “What happened to George changed people’s hearts,” she said; got them talking about the history of not just police brutality, but also the very inequities in education, employment, and housing her family has faced.
Paris Stevens is the cousin of George Floyd. She is the co-chair of the George Floyd Global Memorial along with her aunt, Angela Harrelson. The George Floyd Global Memorial was established to bring together members of George Floyd’s family and the local community to preserve over 2,500 creative expressions of pain and hope left as offerings at the place where George Floyd took his last breaths.