Sylvia Jackson's Home

George Floyd's friend, Maurice Hall.

How George Floyd Spent His Final Hours

On Memorial Day 2020, Floyd left this house in Minneapolis to buy grilling supplies.

He met up with his friend.

Then they walked into a corner store.

It’s Memorial Day. Y’all wanna grill?”

George Perry Floyd Jr. wasn’t particularly skilled at flipping burgers, but he was glad when his friend Sylvia Jackson suggested the diversion. The coronavirus pandemic had left him jobless and listless, a shadow of the gregarious man his friends and family once knew. He had been trying to avoid spending more time in the darkness, feeding the addiction he could not seem to escape.

Jackson’s modest home in north Minneapolis served as a family-friendly refuge. In May 2020, Floyd would come over most days and plop on her couch, watching “iCarly” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” with her three girls. Other times, he’d help her craft TikTok videos in hopes that one day they might go viral. “Let’s do this one,” Jackson would say, before dancing in her kitchen to the music of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” Floyd, 46, would stare at the camera with mock seriousness.

They were often joined by two friends who had worked with them at the Salvation Army, a quarantine quartet meant to keep one another company as they waited for the world to go back to normal. Jackson, 32, rolled her eyes as Floyd would go on about chopped-and-screwed music, the hip-hop genre that emerged from his hometown of Houston. In the evening, Floyd would talk throughout whatever movie they were watching, then shower her with questions about the plot afterward. Her daughters loved camping, so they sometimes set up tents and slept under the stars in the backyard. Other nights, they’d throw some hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill and play music, which was the plan on May 25, 2020.

That day, Jackson had to work an 8-to-2 shift as a security guard, so she tasked Floyd with picking up some lighter fluid and charcoal. She handed him the keys to her car, a 2001 navy blue Mercedes-Benz SUV, and $60 to pay for supplies. “I’ll be back home around 3,” Jackson told him.

Sylvia Jackson’s home in north Minneapolis was a refuge for George Floyd during the pandemic. On May 25, 2020, they planned to grill and play music. Jackson tasked Floyd with picking up supplies.

(Robert Samuels)

Sylvia Jackson’s home in north Minneapolis was a refuge for George Floyd during the pandemic. On May 25, 2020, they planned to grill and play music. Jackson tasked Floyd with picking up supplies.

(Robert Samuels)

Jackson trusted Floyd; she had loaned him the car several times before. Floyd had no other plans, so he called his friend Maurice Hall around 10 a.m. to see if he wanted to hang out. Many of Floyd’s friends warned him about Hall, 42, who had been sleeping in hotels and his vehicle, dealing drugs while trying to avoid arrest warrants. Floyd had tried for years to move on from using, but Hall provided some kinship during this empty part of his life. The two men would smoke pot or ingest pills, which Floyd would chase down with Tylenol to dilute the impact.

Hall told Floyd that he felt he had exhausted his options. Outstanding warrants had driven him underground, and he didn’t want to turn himself in to police. He was a father now, with freckled, curly-haired children, and he couldn’t stomach the idea of being locked up far away from them. Floyd could empathize with Hall’s predicament: He felt guilty being so far away from his young daughter, Gianna. This was not the life either had envisioned when they left Houston’s Third Ward for Minneapolis, seeking sobriety and a new chance at life.

For the two men, and so many of their friends, Minnesota was the “state of opportunity.” They had left Houston for the chance to pull themselves out of a vicious cycle of unemployment, incarceration and addiction. Growing up, Perry, as family called Floyd, had outsize aspirations — to become a Supreme Court justice, a pro athlete or a rap star. He wanted to do something to make a lasting impact. “Sis,” 13-year-old Floyd said to his sister Zsa Zsa. “I don’t want to rule the world; I don’t want to run the world. I just want to touch the world.”

But he was young, poor and Black in America — a recipe for irrelevance in a society that tended to push boys like him onto its margins. As he came of age in Houston’s Third Ward, his dreams were diminished and derailed both by his own mistakes and the systemic forces that proved especially unforgiving for people of color: a crumbling public schools system that pitched athletics as a way out but left him unprepared for college, leading to his return to the economically deprived and over-policed neighborhood without a degree. Selling drugs was one of the most accessible ways to make ends meet, a decision that led to jail time, making it even harder to find a stable job. Those seeking an escape from impoverished conditions often slipped from selling drugs to using them.

[How Post journalists reported on George Floyd’s life and legacy]

Downtrodden men and women of Third Ward looking to escape the cycle often walked through the doors of the tiny yellow church on Holman Street, looking for Pastor Johnnie Riles III. In a neighborhood crippled with drugs and violence, Riles made it his mission to find ways for people to turn their lives around. He wanted to help them find jobs, work programs or spots in rehab centers, but the options for men like Floyd and Hall were limited in a state like Texas, with little social safety net. So Riles often told those battling drug and alcohol dependency about the wonders of Minnesota, a state that long prided itself on being conscientious and progressive. The pastor would regularly buy them tickets for Minnesota-bound buses and let them know there was a spot waiting for them in a Minneapolis treatment center.

After hearing about the many successes of others who had gone before them, both Hall and Floyd decided to take the chance. But the promise of progress in Minnesota can be a cruel mirage. For close to 40 years, the state’s tax code was a model of liberal aspiration because it evenly distributed school funding between urban and rural areas, a legislative achievement known as the “Minnesota miracle.” Even so, this longtime egalitarianist state still had some of the most glaring disparities between Black and White residents in the country.

A 2019 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that only four states have a bigger chasm between Black and White students when it comes to meeting benchmarks for college readiness in reading. Overall, Minnesota boasts the highest percentage of students who meet the reading benchmark in the country and the third-highest for math — driven by the high marks of White students — which can obfuscate these racial disparities. While the state is one of the healthiest, researchers and doctors found themselves flummoxed that Black mothers are twice as likely to die giving birth than their White counterparts, and wide gaps also exist in access to care for diabetes, heart disease and depression. In prosperous Minneapolis, 1 in every 4 Black households lives in poverty — five times the poverty rate for White households.

When former local NAACP president Nekima Levy Armstrong was first wooed to the state in 2003 to become a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, she, too, was pitched about the wonders of Minneapolis. Faculty told her about the Minnesota miracle and the affordability of housing, that the conditions of poverty that afflicted so many Black communities around the country were not so bad there. Her first few months in the city, she believed it. Because of the disproportionate number of Fortune 500 companies in Minneapolis, it was relatively easy to run into educated, affluent Black people who had moved there like she had. But as she established herself in the larger community, the racial discord became apparent.

The most obvious issue was policing. When 22-year-old Terrance Franklin was killed in his home in May 2013, Levy Armstrong noticed the skepticism within Black neighborhoods regarding the official police narrative about his death. Police said that Franklin had grabbed an officer’s gun. There were no body cameras back then to verify their story — but the family pointed to a video shot by a neighbor across the street that captures Franklin saying, “Let me go!” to the officers, as well as someone shouting racial epithets at him. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman gave the case to a grand jury, which cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

Then, after the Black Lives Matter movement blossomed following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., there was another incident that captured local attention. In November 2015, Minneapolis police shot and killed Jamar Clark outside a birthday party. Police said that Clark, 24, had fought with officers, resisted arrest and grabbed one of their guns. But several witnesses maintained that Clark was not resisting. Some said he was handcuffed or had his hands tied behind his back. Again, Levy Armstrong was disturbed by a divergence of accounts between the police and the community.

Inspired by the wave of activism emerging across the country, Levy Armstrong organized protests outside the Fourth Precinct, where the officers involved in Clark’s death were based. The activists demonstrated there for 18 days, demanding more transparency in the court process rather than having decisions left to anonymous grand juries in which the evidence never becomes public. Levy Armstrong encountered the state’s progressive mirage: In March 2016, Freeman agreed to no longer rely on grand juries but chose not to charge the officers who shot Clark. “His DNA is all over that gun, and he had no business having his hand on that gun, which is why they shot him [and] which is why I didn’t prosecute them,” Freeman said in an interview with a local news station.

In July 2016, the world would learn the name of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man and beloved elementary school cafeteria worker, after an officer shot and killed him during a traffic stop in the St. Paul suburbs. Upon being pulled over, Castile told Officer Jeronimo Yanez that he had a licensed firearm in the car. Even though Castile told Yanez he would not pull out the weapon, the officer became nervous and shot him. Castile’s distraught girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, jumped to Facebook Live to record the aftermath, crying as blood seeped across Castile’s shirt. Her 4-year-old daughter was in the back seat.

Castile’s mother, Valerie, was surprised when the Ramsey County attorney charged the officer with second-degree manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a firearm. Nonetheless, a jury acquitted Yanez in June 2017, swayed by his insistence that he had feared Castile would shoot him.

In late 2017, as a tribute to her cafeteria-worker son, Valerie volunteered at an event to feed the homeless. There, she met a large security guard who had moved to Minneapolis from Houston. When he learned who Valerie was, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in close. “I want to give you my condolences,” George Floyd told her. “It wasn’t right.”

Floyd didn’t follow the ins and outs of the daily news cycle — killings back in Third Ward were often enough to think about. But there was something about the Castile case that affected him. Maybe it was the girl in the back seat, who was a little older than Gianna. Maybe it was the feeling that Castile had done everything right but still lost his life. Maybe it was just that Floyd lived so close to where the incident happened. Whatever it was, Castile’s death haunted Floyd. One day, he was hanging with Hall when Castile’s death came up. Floyd looked at his friend and said, “I know these cops just waiting to kill a big Black nigga like me.”

Hall and Floyd did not know each other when they were in Houston but became fast friends in early 2018. After Floyd’s experience working with the homeless at the Salvation Army, where he sometimes ended nights in tears after having to forcefully turn away unruly or intoxicated clients, he wanted to give Hall a chance when others didn’t. When Hall did not have a place to stay, Floyd would invite him to his home to use the shower. He let him sleep in his garage and told him how much he loved him.

When they hung out, they talked about mutual friends while listening to music. What Hall loved most about Floyd was that he kept his ear to the ground, always trying to predict the next big thing — the next great basketball player or the latest sound in hip-hop that would soon take the country by storm — something that was happening a little under the radar. “We just lost track of time every time we’d be together,” Hall recalled. “Like when we was together in Minnesota, it felt like we was in the streets of Houston.”

And then, perhaps, it began to feel a little too much like Houston. Few around Third Ward knew it in the ’90s, but they were coming of age in the epicenter of an emerging drug crisis that researchers are still trying to grasp. As prescription pills flooded suburban communities, the usage of codeine was skyrocketing in cities, largely unregulated. In Houston, where the phenomenon started, residents mixed the drug with Sprite or Kool-Aid and other beverages to create concoctions commonly referred to as drank, lean, sizzurp, or syrup. Its ability to depress the nervous system, which allowed for a sleepy, trancelike high, was a welcome distraction from the stresses of living in a poor Black neighborhood. What started as a trend among the associates of local artist DJ Screw and was then popularized by artists from Lil Wayne to Justin Bieber, became a drug of national concern.

One night in Minneapolis around 2018, Hall brought out a cup of green drank that harked back to their days using down south. Floyd, who had been trying to keep clean, sneaked a taste. And then another. Before they knew it, getting high became a part of their hangout plans. But living in the Midwest, where syrup was hard to come by, Hall said the two found themselves following a common path to chasing a similar high, one that led to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which was disproportionately taking root in Minnesota’s Black community.

“We used to once drink syrup,” Hall said. “So once you used to drink syrup and you’re not getting syrup, you take a pill … and now — bam — you’re struggling with your addiction again. You do as the Romans do, so they do pills up here. They do a bunch of opiates and fentanyl and heroin.”

At about 10 a.m., Floyd called his friend Maurice Hall to hang out. They met at a LensCrafters in nearby Roseville.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

A little before noon, they stopped by Wendy’s. Hall ordered a burger topped with onion rings; Floyd got a Dave’s Double.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

Next, they headed  to Hall’s hotel room at the Embassy Suites in Brooklyn Center.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

At about 10 a.m., Floyd called his friend Maurice Hall to hang out. They met at a LensCrafters in nearby Roseville.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

A little before noon, they stopped by Wendy’s. Hall ordered a burger topped with onion rings; Floyd got a Dave’s Double.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

Next, they headed to Hall’s hotel room at the Embassy Suites in Brooklyn Center.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

On Memorial Day, Hall told Floyd over the phone that he had a day’s worth of errands and suggested they complete his to-do list together. Hall was eager to jump into the Benz — he had been borrowing a friend’s old truck ever since a woman he had brought back to his hotel room had driven off with his ride, taking his clothes, shoes and video games with her. Hall suggested that Floyd meet him at a LensCrafters at the Rosedale Commons shopping center off Interstate 35 in nearby Roseville. Floyd could then follow him back to his hotel to exchange vehicles.

“What do you mean I can’t come in?” Floyd said to the sales representative when he arrived, turned away by the store’s covid-19 protocol, limiting the number of people allowed inside. Hall bought a pair of clear-framed glasses and then stepped outside, where he saw Floyd dressed in a dirty tank top and blue sweatpants. “What up, gator?” Hall said, and the two shook hands.

It was close to noon by this point, so they stopped at a Wendy’s across the street. Hall ordered a burger topped with onion rings; Floyd got a Dave’s Double. After they carried the food to the Benz and unwrapped the sandwiches, Floyd took out his phone to show Hall a new trend in the world of Southern hip-hop.

“You know about sassa walking?” Floyd asked. The men ate their burgers and watched music videos of the emerging sound — it contained the heavy, gritty beats of chopped-and-screwed songs, but rappers laced lighter, faster rhymes over the tracks. Some of the videos demonstrated the dance itself, which combined salsa steps with pelvic thrusts. “It’s gonna be big,” Floyd said.

Next, they went to drop off Hall’s borrowed truck and chilled in his hotel room at the Embassy Suites in Brooklyn Center, just on the other side of the Mississippi River. They ate Cheetos as Hall waited for some buyers to pick up drugs. After someone came to pick up pills, Hall wanted to show off how successful he had become. He pulled out $2,000 in cash, telling Floyd he had made that much money in a single night. The display was more than a simple flex; Hall thought he might have a solution to Floyd’s lingering malaise and hoped Floyd could use his connections in Houston to help boost Hall’s drug business. He said he believed he was offering Floyd a great opportunity. Floyd wasn’t working; Hall had a bustling clientele, ready to pay.

But Floyd didn’t give the idea too much thought, Hall recalled. He didn’t want the drug game to be a part of his life ever again. He knew he was a bad hustler. And his last stint in prison, where he spent more than four years after accepting a plea deal on aggravated robbery charges, had been so traumatizing that he was terrified of what might happen if he got caught up in it anew.

Hall also had to deliver drugs to buyers in different parts of the city, which was another reason he was happy to have Big Floyd around. Hall had become increasingly paranoid about driving himself to drug deals and thought Floyd could take the wheel. They made their way to another hotel 20 miles south, in Bloomington, where they ate sandwiches and drank Minute Maid Tropical Punch. Hall remembered Floyd smoking pot, snorting powdered fentanyl and taking Tylenol.

As Hall fielded calls from potential buyers, Floyd was busy having conversations of his own. One of the people Floyd was communicating with that day was Shawanda Hill, his former lover. “I want to see you,” she texted him.

Back on the north side, Jackson returned to her house to find no charcoal, no lighter fluid, no car, no Floyd. Concerned by her friend’s absence, she called to check in. “Where are you?” Jackson asked. “I’m about to see my girl,” Floyd said. “I’ll be back tonight.”

Shawanda Hill and Floyd first met through a friend in the summer of 2019, around the time Floyd and his on-and-off girlfriend Courteney Ross had become distant. Despite Hill brushing him off at first, Floyd was persistent, and they ended up connecting over music. Hill loved a good slow jam — Mary J. Blige, the Isley Brothers, Monica, Jodeci — and Floyd looked at her wistfully as the soft sounds filled the room. “This is the music I used to dance to with my mama,” Floyd told her.

Floyd stayed the night, then the week, then the month. Hill, 45, loved cooking for her new man. In the morning, she’d put together breakfast burritos with bacon, eggs, cheese and onions, slathered in her homemade gravy. For dinner, she’d prepare big pork steaks with all the fixings, just like his mama used to make.

Hill doesn’t recall them ever going out together or meeting any of his friends. But staying inside with Floyd was more than enough for her. She loved watching him play with her granddaughter, who would climb his body like he was a human jungle gym. And she loved being alone with him, believing that she had finally found herself a decent, sexy man.

But there was one peculiar hang-up about living with Floyd: He always needed to keep the bathroom door open when he was inside; he never told her that his claustrophobia stemmed from his time in prison. Hill’s bathroom was small and had a door that would sometimes jam if it wasn’t closed the right way. One time, Floyd accidentally locked himself inside. His breathing became heavy as he tried to break down the door from within. “That boy almost died in there,” Hill recalled. “He got real bad anxiety, claustrophobia. He was a big ol’ man crying like a little baby.”

Their love affair lasted for about a month. But by mid-January 2020, after Ross saw Hill’s name in Floyd’s phone, he found himself back at Hill’s apartment. For her part, Hill didn’t inquire much about the drama between the two because she felt that was Floyd’s business to handle. What mattered to her was what was right in front of her. And she began to believe that fate had placed Floyd there for a special reason.

That became apparent on Jan. 20, 2020, when Hill got a call that a man whom she helped raise — the rapper known as Mr. Blue Ghost — was found dead in an alley with a single gunshot to the head. Lemandre Ingram was 40. A man Hill called his “cousin,” Jeffrey McRaven, was accused of killing him. McRaven would eventually be convicted of second-degree murder.

Hill was heartbroken, angry and confused. Not only did she have to grapple with Ingram’s death, she also had to deal with relatives who wanted to seek retribution on McRaven. Floyd tried to comfort Hill, conveying his experience of what to do when a life was lost to the streets. “Let God handle it,” Floyd suggested telling them. “It ain’t worth it because God would not want us to hurt the same family all over again. You can’t f--- up a family twice.”

“He let me cry, let me snap,” Hill recalled. “He was there for me.” But their reunion was brief. Despite their chemistry, Floyd did not seek Hill’s emotional support or talk about his own inner struggles. And so when Floyd needed comfort after he lost his truck-driving job because he fell asleep at the wheel, he called Ross with a familiar refrain, “Old Floyd’s done it again.” And Ross welcomed him back into her life — until they had a falling out over him hanging out with Maurice Hall so much. The next day was Memorial Day.

As evening fell, Hall hoped to pick up a tablet at CUP Foods, a corner store known for buying and selling electronics for cheap.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

After Hall bought a tablet, the CUP manager needed to clean its hard drive. Hall and Floyd headed to Lake Street, where Hall bought an iPhone 7. It was almost 7:30 p.m. when the friends circled back to CUP.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

As evening fell, Hall hoped to pick up a tablet at CUP Foods, a corner store known for buying and selling electronics for cheap.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

After Hall bought a tablet, the CUP manager needed to clean its hard drive. Hall and Floyd headed to Lake Street, where Hall bought an iPhone 7. It was almost 7:30 p.m. when the friends circled back to CUP.

(Caroline Yang for The Washington Post)

Evening was beginning to fall that Memorial Day, and Hall still wanted to drop off clothes at the dry cleaner, get a new cellphone and shop for a tablet. He thought he could pick one up at a corner store on Minneapolis’s south side called CUP Foods, which was known as a spot for buying and selling electronics for cheap. Floyd was a familiar face at CUP — managers said he’d stop by once or twice a week.

CUP Foods, which stands for “Chicago Unbeatable Prices” and was a play on the established chain of local grocery stores called Cub Foods, was the kind of everything depot that had become a staple in the community as it expanded its services over three decades. A wraparound awning above the entrance documented its diverse offerings in bold white lettering: Stamps, Keys, Phones & Accessories, Bus Cards, Organic Milk, T-shirts, Mexican Food, Halal Meat. The store buzzed from morning to evening with people coming in to buy snacks, grab a quick meal of wings or sandwiches, get checks cashed, send money via Western Union, pay bills. The city had largely restricted the sale of menthol cigarettes in 2017, but they were still available for purchase there — which neighbors contended could attract an unscrupulous crowd.

At the corner of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the store sat in a minority-majority neighborhood home to nearly 25,000 residents and is one of the most dynamic commercial zones in the city. The area had also become familiar territory for police from the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. Some officers had marked the store as a known hot spot for gang activity and crime, while members of the community accused the police of targeting CUP’s customers for harassment.

Floyd told his former lover that he was on his way to the store. Hill was thrilled at that news — she needed to buy a new battery for her cellphone anyway, and she hoped to sneak in a little Floyd time before picking up her granddaughter, whom she had promised to babysit that day. Hill boarded the No. 5 bus and headed down to the corner of 38th and Chicago.

Hall and Floyd got to CUP Foods first. Hall walked to the back of the store, outside the view of the security cameras, and bought a tablet for $180. The manager said they needed some time to clean its hard drive, so instead of waiting around, Hall and Floyd headed about a mile north, to Lake Street, where Hall bought himself an iPhone 7.

It was close to 7:30 p.m. when the two friends circled back to CUP. Floyd parked the Benz across the street, and Hall went inside to pick up his tablet. He walked down the store’s long, narrow aisles and past rows of fruits and vegetables to the electronics section, where locked glass display cases showcased tablets, laptops and prepaid cellphones in bright green boxes. The cashier told Hall he needed to give him a refund because he had been unable to clear off the old files. Hall was still trying to figure out if there were any other options when Floyd came in a few minutes later. Floyd meandered around the front of the store, fumbling with cash in his pocket and saying hello to almost every employee he came across.

Floyd made his way through the aisles, passing display shelves that offered Oreo cookies and Little Debbie snacks. He then grabbed a half-rotten banana and said something to a teenage cashier, before bending over in a fit of laughter. The cashier, whose father was one of the store’s owners, looked puzzled but shrugged it off and pointed his finger with a get-a-load-of-this-guy smirk.

Christopher Martin, another teenager behind the register, immediately noticed Floyd’s size — 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, bulging biceps — accentuated by the snugly fitting black tank top he was wearing. Martin asked him if he played baseball. Floyd stuttered and rambled for a moment before responding that he played football. Martin, tall and slender with light-brown skin, had seen drunk and high customers come into the store before, and he thought Floyd might be under the influence.

Around that time, Hill walked inside the store and glimpsed Floyd’s muscular silhouette. “Oh my God, Floyd,” she said. “Baby,” Floyd responded, “I was just thinking about you.” He wrapped his arms around her, and she kissed him where her lips met his body: on his chest, at the valley of his tank top. Hill, though, was surprised to see Floyd dressed that way, knowing his mother had taught him to look presentable when he was out on the street. Hill asked why he was wearing a tank top and baggy pants. “I’ve been moving,” Floyd explained. And before all the errands with Hall, Floyd said, he had been playing basketball.

Floyd suggested that maybe they could head to a park and catch up. After Hill told him that she needed to watch her granddaughter, Floyd offered to give her a ride over there. Hill smirked. “I was thinking I was going to get me some,” she recalled.

Hill and Hall had never met each other before, but the trio ended up leaving the store together. Before they left, Floyd bought a pack of menthol cigarettes. “He gave him the money, I saw them take the money,” Hill said. “They give him the cigarettes, and they give him the change. We walked out the store, went in the car, we were in the car, and we talked like, I don’t know, a good eight minutes …”

Back inside CUP Foods, Martin lifted the $20 bill above his head and held it up against a light. He noticed it had the bluish hue of a $100 bill and suspected it was a fake. He took the bill and showed it to his manager, who asked him to go outside and summon Floyd back to the store. Because Floyd was a regular at CUP, the manager figured it was a mistake that an old customer would be willing to fix.

Inside the Benz, both Hill and Hall sensed the day’s errands were catching up with Floyd. While they were chatting, he started to fall asleep in the driver’s seat — a trait his friends said was typical. Hall grew nervous. Because the corner was known for gang activity, he didn’t want to draw the attention of any police. “We gotta go from here,” Hall said. Just then, Martin and another teenage employee from CUP walked up to the car on the passenger side. They told Hall that the boss wanted to see them because the money was counterfeit. “I didn’t give him that,” Hall said.

The cashiers pointed to Floyd, who was still slouched over, struggling to stay awake, as the culprit. “Floyd, did you really do that?” Hill asked in surprise, because Floyd was not known to cheat people out of money. “Why is this happening to me?” Floyd said, before brushing off the requests to go back inside. Martin gave up and walked away with the other employee.

After Martin came back into CUP without Floyd or proper payment for a pack of menthol cigarettes, his manager told another employee to call the police — hoping to teach a lesson about responsibility. The teenage employee who dialed 911 had recently moved to Minneapolis from West Africa, and English was his second language. He was almost as tall as Floyd and dark-skinned, but, as he would later tell a reporter from Slate, did not fully understand the long history of police brutality against Black Americans. He had no idea how a call to 911 to report a petty crime could escalate.

“Um, someone comes our store and give us fake bills and we realize it before he left the store, and we ran back outside, they was sitting on their car,” he said during the call, adding that the alleged counterfeiter was “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself.” The dispatcher told him the authorities would be there shortly.

A few minutes later, Martin returned to the car with two other employees, again asking Floyd to come back inside. But Hill and Hall thought Floyd was too exhausted to understand what was happening. “We kept trying to wake him up,” Hill recalled. She searched her pockets but didn’t have any more cash on her. She apologized to the employees and promised that Floyd would speak to the manager as soon as he woke up. After a few minutes, Floyd gathered his bearings. He shook himself and patted his pockets for the car keys. “Floyd, look, that little boy said that money wasn’t real,” Hill told him. “They about to call the police.”

She glanced across the street and saw two police officers walking into the store. They consulted with the store’s owners, who led them through the back entrance to point out the group of people who had just used the questionable $20 bill. Minutes later, the two officers stepped out. “They’re moving around a lot,” one of the officers said to his partner as they approached the car. He gripped his flashlight.

Inside the vehicle, Floyd had started to panic, still searching for the keys. Hall was panicking, too, knowing he had drugs in the car that he needed to hide. “I’m stuffing and tucking,” Hall recalled. “So, the next thing you know, the cop is on his side, all you hear is — boom!”

At the sound of the flashlight hitting the window, Floyd turned to the officer with the panicked look of a man whose mama had told him what could happen when a Black man encountered the wrong police officer.

I love you.” Floyd would express the same sentiment to men, women and children; to relatives, old friends and strangers; to romantic partners, platonic acquaintances and the women who fell somewhere in between; to hardened hustlers and homeless junkies; to big-time celebrities and neighborhood nobodies. He said the phrase so often that many friends and family members have no doubt about the final words he spoke to them. He would end phone calls with the expression and sign off text messages by tapping it out in all caps. On that fateful Memorial Day, as he suffocated under Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee, Floyd spent his dying breaths calling out the same phrase.

“Mama, I love you!” he screamed from the pavement, where his cries of “I can’t breathe” were met with an indifference as deadly as hate.

“Reese, I love you!” he yelled, a reference to his friend Hall. But he and Hill were being blocked by an officer around the corner — unable to see what was happening or hear Floyd’s final cries.

“Tell my kids I love them!”

About this story

This article is adapted and excerpted from “His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” to be published by Viking this month.

Design by Marissa Vonesh. Photo editing by Dudley M. Brooks.