‘He just knew how to make people feel better:’ George Floyd’s brother sheds tears during testimony

Derek Chauvin Trial

MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — George Floyd’s brother broke down on the witness stand Monday as he was shown a picture of his late mother and a young George during the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing him.

“That’s my oldest brother George. I miss both of them,” 39-year-old Philonise Floyd said at the trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing his late brother by putting his knee on the Black man’s neck during an arrest last May.

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“He was a big mama’s boy,” Philonise Floyd said. “And being around him, he showed us, like, how to treat our mom, and how to respect our mom. He just — he loved her so dearly.”

Floyd’s mother died in May 2018. Her funeral was the last time the two brothers saw each other in person before Floyd’s death, he said.

Philonise Floyd took the stand as part of an effort by prosecutors to humanize his brother in front of the jury and make him more than a crime statistic.

Prosecutors used a legal doctrine called “spark of life” to call his brother to testify about Floyd’s life, and previously used it to call Courtney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend to the stand. Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony ahead of a verdict. Defense attorneys often complain that such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.

Philonise Floyd described growing up in a poor area of Houston with George and their other siblings.

“He used to make the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches. And he used to make the best syrup sandwiches because George couldn’t cook, he couldn’t boil water,” he said.

He said that as a child, George used to mark his height on the wall, because he loved sports and wanted to grow taller. He said Floyd also played football and purposely threw the ball at different angles so Philonise would have to practice diving for it.

“I always thought my brother couldn’t throw. But he never intended to throw the ball to me,” he said, smiling.

“He was one of those people in the community that when they had church outside, people would attend church just because he was there,” Philonise Floyd said. “Nobody would go out there until they seen him. And he just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He — he just knew how to make people feel better.”

Chauvin’s lawyers have said in court filings they intend to use revolving around the meaning of a slang term used by Floyd during his arrest: “hooping.”

Chauvin’s lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, has argued that when Floyd is heard in body-worn camera footage telling police he “was just hooping earlier,” he was using term referring to taking drugs rectally, which prosecutors have denied.

After showing photographs of a young George Floyd dressed in an orange basketball uniform, prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked the brother: “When he would talk about playing basketball, would he use any particular term or phrase?”

“He said, ‘Let’s go hooping,'” Philonise Floyd replied. “We always went hooping. You have to hoop every day. If you don’t go and shoot a whole bunch of shots, like 50 to 100 shots a day, my brother would say he would never be able to compete.”

George Floyd was an accomplished basketball player who even played on a community college team in Florida, his brother said.

A member of Floyd’s family has often occupied a reserved seat in the back corner of the Minneapolis courtroom. The seat reserved for Chauvin’s family goes unclaimed.

Philonise Floyd has attended several days of the trial to bear witness on behalf of his family. He has watched the searing bystander, police body camera and security videos of his brother’s fatal encounter with Chauvin on May 25, and listened to testimony from eyewitnesses and police.

“This is life-changing,” Philonise Floyd said during a break in the proceedings. “All this testimony is so hard on everyone.”

Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s May 25 death. Bystander video of Floyd, pinned by Chauvin and two other officers as he cried “I can’t breathe” and eventually grew still, sparked protests and scattered violence around the world.

Chauvin’s attorney has argued that Floyd’s death was caused by drug use and underlying health conditions including a bad heart. He is expected to call his own medical experts after the prosecution wraps its case, expected early this week. Nelson hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify. The prosecution has built its case on searing witness accounts, experts rejecting Chauvin’s use of a neck restraint, and medical authorities attributing Floyd’s death to a lack of oxygen. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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