Sep 15 2020

George Floyd from Berlin to Bavaria

Published by at 6:46 pm under Comments on current affairs

George Floyd from Berlin to Bavaria

 

by Anna Rosmus

 

 

On May 25, 2020, when George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, purchased cigarettes at a Minneapolis grocery store, an employee believed he had paid with a counterfeit $20 bill.[1] After the 6’4” (193 cm) suspect was killed during a police arrest,[2] videos made by witnesses and security cameras became public. They showed a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. All four officers were fired, and criminally charged. Two autopsies declared Floyd’s death to be a homicide.

That triggered not only protests against police brutality, racism, and a lack of police accountability in the United States, but all over the world makeshift memorials seemed to spring up.[3] Germans began to show their solidarity, too. Chancellor Angela Merkel called the killing a “very, very terrible thing,” also condemning racism. After scoring a goal, Borussia Mönchengladbach football player Marcus Thuram took a knee and bowed his head. The name of Berlin’s Mohrenstraße (Moors Street) subway station was spontaneously taped over to create a George Floyd Straße. A mural depicting him was painted on a section of the Berlin Wall. On June 6th, in more than 30 cities the combined number of protest participants exceeded 100,000.

When US police shot at a Deutsche Welle crew reporting from Minneapolis in two separate incidents, and threatened with arrest in a third incident, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas demanded that “journalists must be able to carry out their task, which is independent coverage of events, without endangering their safety”; adding that “democratic states under the rule of law have to meet the highest standards when it comes to protecting freedom of press.”

Prompted by multiple inquiries, Snopes posted excerpts from an e-mail by Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Lt. Bob Kroll to union members, where he pointed out, “What is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd.”[4]

According to court records, between 1997 and 2007 police had arrested Floyd nine times, mostly on drug and theft charges that resulted in months-long jail sentences.[5] In 2009, he was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in a home invasion but paroled in January 2013.[6]

According to the county’s postmortem toxicology screening, performed one day after Floyd’s death, the deceased was intoxicated with 11 ng/mL of fentanyl,[7] a synthetic opioid pain reliever, and 19 ng/mL of methamphetamines (as well as other substances).

 

Benedictine Metten Library in the Deggendorf district, courtesy of Gary Heatherly[8]

 

Back in Southern Germany, George Floyd made more headlines in an idyllic municipality called Metten. It is not only located on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but in some ways, crime-related data like those above seem almost a world away. Best known for its baroque Benedictine abbey, Metten has some 4,200 residents, many of them are/were educated at its humanistic secondary school.

While racism is not completely new there, the earliest encounters with any African Americans that locals recall occurred in 1945, at the end of World War II, when General George Patton Jr.’s tanks came rolling down, between the Danube River and the border to Czechoslovakia. During the subsequent occupation, alcohol and fraternizing with white women posed temptations for some men. In 2011, when US-veterans of the 3rd Army and their relatives visited Metten Abbey, Father Norbert offered them a tour, and told them about the surrender of the Hungarian Generals.

Five years later, the largest refugee crisis since World War II created wide-spread panic.[9] By late February 2016, in Bavaria alone, more than 130,000 people were waiting for the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF) to recognize their refugee status. In April, when the number of new arrivals sharply receded, the government of Lower Bavaria announced that only six of the 24 temporary refugee housings in the district would remain open; one was Metten. The Abbey tackled racism head-on. In October 2018, for example, its 9th graders met African-German filmmaker Mo Asumang, who confronts racism and anti-semitism.[10]

Then, in the summer of 2020, a new resident of this quaint community proposed that the market council adds the name of George Floyd to a pool for potential street names. Dutifully, Mayor Moser invited the gentleman in his mid-70s to the Metten town hall. According to a Bayerischer Rundfunk report, that cosmopolitan “war schon in aller Welt zu Hause. In Papua-Neuguinea machte er Erfahrungen mit Rassismus. Seine mittlerweile verstorbene Frau wurde von Australiern angefeindet. Deshalb hatte ihn das Schicksal von George Floyd besonders berührt” (has already been at home in the entire world. In Papua New Guinea, he experienced racism. His wife, meanwhile deceased, was ostracized by Australians. That’s why the fate of George Floyd touched him in particular.)[11] The Metten Community Council unanimously accepted the resident’s proposal.

Online, at Bayerischer Rundfunk BR 24, the Metten proposal was discussed, too. One of the commentators wrote, “Wenn 1. April wäre, könnte ich diese Meldung entsprechend einschätzen.” (If it were April 1st, I could assess this report accordingly.)[12] On July 9th, a different request was made. It should not be ignored that Floyd “eine kriminelle Karriere hatte. Von 1997 bis 2007”

(had a criminal career. From 1997 until 2007…) adding that,

Will man als Gemeinde seine ablehnende Haltung gegenüber dem Rassismus zum Ausdruck bringen, gibt es sicher andere Möglichkeiten. Wenn es unbedingt ein Straßenname sein sollte, dann besser nach einer Begebenheit im regionalen Umfeld suchen.” (If as a community one wants to express one’s objection toward racism, there are certainly other options. If absolutely it should be a street name, then better search for an occurrence in the regional surroundings).[13]

Four weeks later, a unanimous vote voided the Council’s previous decision. Renaming an existing street was not only deemed too laborious and too expensive, but in the future only persons with a connection to Metten will be considered, and only those not criminally sentenced in a democracy, where law and order rule.

On August 5th, the Deggendorf edition of the Passauer Neue Presse headlined, “Gemeinderat doch gegen George-Floyd- Straße” (Community Council against George-Floyd-Street after all). In hindsight, Mayor Moser conceded, it would have been “eleganter” (more elegant) to reject the proposal right away. The community was “überrumpelt” (blindsided), unaware of Floyd’s past.

 

Footnotes:

[1] How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody

[2] “Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office Autopsy Report”. Hennepin County. June 1, 2020.

[3] Memorials For George Floyd Appear Worldwide, From Minneapolis To Nairobi

[4] In “Background Check: Investigating George Floyd’s Criminal Record”, JESSICA Lee published on June 12, 2020 that attorney Ben Crump, who represents Floyd’s family, “did not respond to Snopes’ multiple requests for comment.”

[5] Police records and other court filings regarding Floyd’s criminal history are publicly available at the Harris County District Clerk’s online database.

[6] Hall, Michael (May 31, 2020). “The Houston Years of George Floyd”. Texas Monthly.

[7] According to Mayo Clinic Laboratories, “the presence of fentanyl above 0.20 ng/mL” – a fraction of the amount discovered in Floyd’s system – is “a strong indicator that the patient has used fentanyl.”

[8] Gary Heatherly Photography, (865) 971-4870, gary@garyheatherly.com

[9] Rosmus, Anna Elisabeth, Land unter. Die Migranten sind da! Ein Lagebericht zur geographischen Mitte Europas; in: Glossen 45, August 2016

[10] Aktiv gegen Rassismus, aktiv gegen Menschenfeindlichkeit

[11] George-Floyd-Straße in Metten einstimmig abgelehnt | BR24

[12] George-Floyd-Straße in Metten einstimmig abgelehnt | BR24

[13] Gemeinderat doch gegen George-Floyd- Straße, in: Deggendorf edition of the Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) from August 5, 2020

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