Friends and employers remembered George Floyd as a big man with a heart to match.
Floyd, 46, a native of Houston who was nicknamed “Big Floyd” and also went by Floyd Perry, lived in St. Louis Park and worked security for years at Conga Latin Bistro, where photos of him on the job show him dressed in a dapper suit.
Conga regular Luz Maria Gonzalez Gonzalez said she would make a point to drop in early before dancing on Friday nights to joke around and eat with Floyd, who “took care of people.”
Floyd died Monday night in police custody in south Minneapolis during an encounter captured on video by a passerby and broadcast on Facebook. The 10-minute video featured Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and complaining he couldn’t breathe before losing consciousness.
Christina Dawson, Floyd’s former girlfriend who remained on friendly terms with him, said she and others close to her “were up all night searching and calling, and hoping it wasn’t him.
At about midnight or 1, I see on my [social media] feed another black man being attacked.”
Then she found and watched the video from the scene.
“When I heard him say ‘I can’t breathe,’ I knew who it was,” she told the Star Tribune late Tuesday afternoon. “We finally reach out to his family. Sure enough, it was him.”
Dawson said she and Floyd had been together for nearly three years until his death. “I’m so sorry this happened to his children, family and friends.
“That king did not have to die before his time.”
Gonzalez last saw Floyd just before the coronavirus outbreak brought restaurant dining to a halt roughly two months ago, when he mentioned he enjoyed Tajin, a Mexican spice.
Gonzalez told Floyd she’d have the spice for him the next time they saw each other, but COVID-19 restrictions left that gesture unfulfilled.
“I got some,” she said. “Now I guess I will put it on his memorial for him.”
Longtime Minneapolis businessman Jovanni Thunstrom said he didn’t at first recognize the black man dying under the knee of a white police officer on the South Side of his city.
“I was shocked when I saw the video,” said Thunstrom, owner of Conga Latin Bistro on East Hennepin Avenue. “I didn’t know who this poor guy was.”
Thunstrom would later learn that the man who died Monday night following the altercation at E. 38th Street and Chicago Avenue S. was Floyd, an employee who also rented a residence from him in St. Louis Park.
“The way he died, he was begging for his life,” said Thunstrom, who last saw Floyd about a week ago, when he came by to pay his rent. “I just hope he gets some justice. … I just don’t understand.”
Thunstrom said Floyd worked at the restaurant for the past five years, but he was more than just an employee to him, staff and customers.
Floyd was “a good friend, person and a good tenant,” he said. “He was family. His co-workers and friends loved him.”
The restaurateur took his emotions to Facebook, saying that Floyd’s death was “plain murder. It can’t go unpunished.”
He ended his post by saying he would “like to keep on writing, but my vision is blurry from the tears. … I am sorry. I usually don’t cry.”
Gonzalez, who first watched the video not realizing it was Floyd, said “there needs to be consequences. This is happening all over America. … He was a kind man who did not deserve to die.”
Another Conga patron, Jessi Zendejas, called Floyd a “gentle giant” who kept everyone at the restaurant safe.
“Everyone who knows him knew he loved his hugs from his regulars when working as a security guard,” Zendejas said on Facebook. “[He] would be mad if you didn’t stop to greet him because he honestly loved seeing everyone and watching everyone have fun.”
Zendejas recalled that “on the days I didn’t bring extra change for coat check, he would keep my stuff in his closet and made sure I got it back.”