Floyd's death spurs question: What is a black life worth?

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this June 1, 2020, photo, people gather near the Cup Foods grocery store where George Floyd died in Minneapolis. Floyd was accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes from the grocery store. His story is similar to that of other African Americans who died at the hands of police over minor offenses. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

MINNEAPOLIS – For 12-year-old Tamir Rice, it was simply carrying a toy handgun. For Eric Garner, it was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. For Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and Ahmaud Arbery, it was the minor offenses of jaywalking, failing to signal a lane change and trespassing on a residential construction site.

And for George Floyd, it was an accusation he used a fake $20 bill at a grocery store. While in police custody on May 25, Floyd repeatedly pleaded “I can't breathe,” as a white officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into the black man’s neck for what prosecutors say was nearly nine minutes.

“George wasn’t hurting anyone that day,” his brother, Philonise Floyd, said Wednesday in testimony to a House Judiciary Committee hearing on policing practices and law enforcement accountability.

“He didn’t deserve to die over $20. I am asking you, is that what a black man’s life is worth?”

Twenty dollars: To some, that’s chump change. But George Floyd was not a chump, family and friends in Houston, where he grew up, asserted when they laid him to rest this week in a golden coffin. Those who mourned him at memorials held across three states said the value of the 46-year-old’s life far surpassed that.

In death, Floyd has created an invaluable and, some say, unprecedented moment for the national struggle against institutional racism and inequality.

In Minnesota, across the nation and around the world, outrage turned into action as protests grew, propelled by the reality that African Americans become martyrs of the Black Lives Matter movement over such trivial activities — in circumstances where their rights are discarded, their liberty deprived, their lives devalued. And where they’re far more likely than whites to die at the hands of police.

“What’s exposed in this moment is something black folks have always known: How quickly we can be killed by law enforcement over the most trivial things," said Chelsea Fuller, spokesperson for the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of more than 150 black-led grassroots organizations seeking the liberation of black people.