I knew George Floyd. Not the George Floyd who was killed in Minneapolis, but the generic George Floyd. I knew him. I knew a thousand George Floyds. Guys trying to survive on the street. Nice enough guys with few prospects trying to make their way through life as best they could. Some were surprisingly smart, inherently knowing a great deal about organizational behavior because they surely didn’t learn it at Harvard Business School. Some weren’t very smart. Many were addicted to drugs.
Addicted to opioids doesn’t make one evil, or even an unpleasant person. People who are addicted can be good people, but they tend to do dumb stuff and get themselves into trouble. That’s largely why I knew George Floyd, because he would come to my office, sit in the chair across my desk and talk to me.
He wasn’t a saint, George. He wasn’t a bad dude either, though he could be when he was high and angry. Reinventing George into a saint is ludicrous, although of an entirely different level of wrong than not caring about his life. There are millions of George Floyds and they deserve to live just like you or I, even if they’re not saints. We aren’t either. You don’t need to be a saint to deserve to live.
Maybe George had family who loved him, friends who cared about him. Maybe not. It makes no difference, although some Georges with family and friends get help from them to dig their way out of a life that’s likely to put them at risk of more problems than anyone needs. Others have family and friends, but not the kind who do anything to help. They can’t. They’re just like George.
I took a view of my clients that was holistic before anyone called it holistic, before anybody thought holistic was cool. Not only did I try to beat their case, but I tried to get them jobs, care, housing and a path out of trouble. Sometimes it worked. Most times it didn’t. I was just a lawyer, and as “important” as I might have been at the time they were being prosecuted, I was soon just an unpleasant memory when they went back to their old lives, their old ways.
George Floyd died. Suddenly, his name is on everyone’s lips. Celebrities write about how they’re heartbroken about it. A president speaks his name. Well-intended people march in the street calling for “justice.” Less well-intended people use a dead black body for their own purposes and get a big screen TV out of it for their efforts. They knew George Floyd too. They knew him far better than any of us.
What if Chauvin hadn’t killed George Floyd? Would celebrities know his name? If George Floyd called, would they pick up the phone, maybe invite him over for a glass of chard? Would President Biden, or his masked sidekick, want to have a talk with George Floyd? Would they have invited him to a state dinner at the White House? Had George Floyd lived, would he have been able to get within 1000 feet of Biden? Why is the president speaking the name of George Floyd only because he’s dead? Why does everyone love this dead guy they wouldn’t have touched if he lived?
I had dinner with George Floyd. I had a thousand dinners with George, under different names each time. I held their hands when they were afraid they were going down for state prison time and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it. I talked to their wives, their mothers, about surviving with them and without them. I talked to their children about going to school and maybe even college someday when they told me they wanted to be a drug dealer like the guy who owned the corner in Fort Washington who wore thick gold chains. And I was there as they cried when poor George Floyd was killed. Sometimes by cops. Sometimes by another George Floyd.
Watching the outpouring of adoration for George Floyd now, after his death, after the conviction of Derek Chauvin, after his family got a $27 million settlement, is sadly unshocking. You love George Floyd dead. You turn him into a saint. You take to the streets in his name, filled with passion and outrage.
Alive, you wouldn’t give George Floyd the time of day. You would cross the street to get away from him. You would have called the cops on George Floyd too. You would never have eaten dinner with George. You never would have sat across a desk from him, learning who he was, what his life was like, and trying to help him make it better. Like he was just another human being, flawed but deserving to live.