Minneapolis (AFP) - The black man who left Houston for fresh beginnings in Minneapolis, only to end up begging for his life before dying under the knee of a white policeman, was a generous soul laid off during the coronavirus crisis.
"Everybody loved my brother," Philonese Floyd said Tuesday, one day after George Floyd perished, sparking massive protests and renewing accusations of systemic racism in America.
"He's a gentle giant," he told CNN. "He don't hurt anybody."
The late 46-year-old had come north and found work as a trucker and more recently a security guard at a restaurant, Conga Latin Bistro, before business dried up during Minnesota's stay-at-home order.
"He would just keep us safe there, you know?" Luz Maria Gonzalez, who regularly ate at the restaurant, told National Public Radio.
"At the end of the night, he'd say, 'Hey, Luz, I want to wait until you get into your cab.'"
Others close to Floyd described him as taking steps to improve his life.
"I remember him saying he wanted to touch the world. He wanted to have a worldwide impact," Jonathan Veal, a friend since the sixth grade, told broadcaster KPRC in Houston, where they attended Jack Yates High School together.
Floyd, at an imposing six feet six (two meters), became a star athlete in basketball and football, and dabbled in hip hop music.
But he left Houston when it became hard to find work.
Veal said he last communicated with Floyd in January, when they exchanged text messages.
"A few things I gotta get strait for my lil ones," Floyd wrote Veal.
"My faith is getting back where it supposed to be."
But on May 25, following nine agonizing minutes caught on video, Floyd was gone, after an officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes as he lay on the street, unarmed and handcuffed.
"Please, please I can't breathe," Floyd is heard saying in the viral video.
Police have described him as the suspect in a forgery case at a grocery store, where the clerk called 911 Monday after Floyd apparently used counterfeit money to buy cigarettes.
- 'Changing his life' -
Bridgett Floyd said her brother wasn't perfect, but that it was "heartbreaking" for him to die at the hands of police.
"That's exactly what they did," she told NBC News. "They murdered my brother. He was crying for help."
Four policemen were fired over the incident. One, Derek Chauvin, was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder.
Floyd's girlfriend, Courtney Ross, was adamant that he had remained a shining light in the community.
"This is nothing but an angel that was sent to us on earth," she told CBS News. "And we demonized him, and we killed him."
Floyd reportedly had two children. Roxie Washington, the mother of his six-year-old daughter in Houston, described him as a devoted father.
"People mistake him because he was so big that they thought he was always a fighting person," Washington said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"But he was a loving person... and he loved his daughter."
One of Floyd's longtime friends, Stephen Jackson, became an NBA basketball star, but Floyd never let that change their friendship.
"We called each other Twin," Jackson said in an emotional video post on Instagram.
"He was changing his life," moving to Minnesota for work so he could support his children, Jackson added.
"My boy was doing what he was supposed to do, man, and you all go and kill my brother."