Derek Chauvin Was Not the First to Steal Life from George Floyd's Family

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In a recent editorial for The Washington Post, Toluse Olorunnipa and Griff Witte unpacked the ways systemic racism had a profound impact on the life of George Floyd well before his fateful encounter with Derek Chauvin back in May. Perhaps most compelling is the story of Floyd’s great-great-grandfather, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr, an enslaved man in North Carolina who attained his freedom after the Civil War and acquired 500 acres of land, only to have it seized by white farmers.

Because Stewart was illiterate on account of state mandates prohibiting Black people from being able to read, he was unable to arrange a sufficient legal defense against the thieves of his property. George Floyd was born into a family that directly felt the impact of white men taking their possessions. That he would later lose the property that was his body is the cruelest inheritance that could be passed down.

Derek Chauvin Was Not the First to Steal Life from George Floyd's Family

Before Derek Chauvin stole the life from George Floyd...

before he would be released from a cell that should have cradled him...

before George Floyd would uproot from Houston to Minneapolis...

before he would even know what it was to exist in human form...

George bled a victim’s blood...

George carried the marrow of someone stolen and stolen from...

and ain’t that [Black] American?...

to be a descendant of the pillaged...

to not have ownership of the first property that is your body...

ain’t it just like whiteness to decide what you can and cannot keep?...

ain’t it American for your Black story to be told as something rummaged?...

plundered?...

discarded?...

edited out for the convenience of whiteness?

Didn’t George leave the womb as a robbery victim?...

his great-great-grandfather, the first of his lineage to face invasion...

When we tell George’s Black, lifeless story...

when we talk about the planted knee and the siphoned breath...

let us remember that Derek Chauvin was not

the first white man to burglarize Blackness in George’s family...

He was just the one caught stealing in plain view.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.