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Community gathers to grieve death of George Floyd in Houston

HOUSTON – The mask on Vernon Spivey’s face could not conceal the tears that filled his eyes.

“My little brother is gone. I’m not going to see him no more,” Spivey said, standing in front of the Shape Community Center in Third Ward.

The community center has been a home away from home for Spivey since his childhood — back when he and friend, George Floyd, would play pickup football games at Emancipation Park.

Spivey reflected on those memories Wednesday as he mourned Floyd’s death. Spivey — like many in Floyd’s native community of Third Ward — watched cell phone video of a Minneapolis Police Officer pinning Floyd’s neck under his knee. Floyd died Monday after being heard in the video pleading to the officer for relief because he could not breathe.

“It hurts a lot of people to see it on TV, on national TV, how they treated this man. We loved this man,” Spivey said.

Public outrage over Floyd’s death, particularly how officers detained him on suspicion of forgery, has many calling for more than accountability. For many in the Black community, Floyd’s death marked yet another of a black man at the hands of a municipal police force. At the crossroads of race and trauma, a flood of emotions has led activists, community leaders, and everyday citizens to ask why incidents such as Floyd’s keep happening, and what needs to be done to prevent them.

“We’re not going to stop being tired until we do something about the condition that exists presently,” said Deloyd Parker, Jr., executive director, Shape Community Center.

Parker knew Floyd and said he helped him with his move to Minnesota after Floyd began to work on improving his life.

“Brother George was a good man. I knew him. We had a relationship because Minnesota was somewhere we’d send people who wanted to change their lives. I hate to even think of me saying I knew him. I should be saying I know him,” Parker said.

Parker said Floyd’s death is part of a larger concern in the community of color. In Houston, Parker and other community leaders have pushed for a civilian review committee with subpoena power to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

“If we don’t change the system, if we don’t hold people accountable for what they do, it’s going to continue to happen,” Parker continued.

Conversations about how to respond to Floyd’s death filled local airways Wednesday.

“The conversation has been primarily, especially among people who’ve got little brown boys, is teaching them to be mindful,” said Rob G The General, a longtime Houston radio personality and DJ.

Rob G hosts a daily praise and worship show on Facebook live, a well as other platforms.

“A lot of parents are concerned. Little things that you take for granted like going for a bike ride or going for a run or playing basketball in your front yard, we’ve got to give a different set of parameters to our children about what to look out for and it’s unfortunate that we have to place these things on them at such a young age,” he continued.

Mental health experts said that conversation, further amplified by videos of deaths, such as Floyd’s, exacerbate trauma and must be explored.

“We all need to heal together collectively,” said Temara Holt, an advanced doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, where she studies counseling psychology.

Holt also hosts and produces “The Black Jezebel Podcast,” a series that tackles topics such as race and trauma.

“People are trying to figure out how -- what does it look like to absorb this type of information and still be able to function,” Holt said.

Absorbing it is not easy, Holt advised, because doing so tends to set off emotional triggers.

“Emotions of anger, sadness, confusion distress -- all of these emotions are things that we’re often told to push away and so it’s going to be really important that we allow ourselves to feel that,” Holt said, adding it’s key to talk about emotional triggers and what they mean to the individual.

“Definitely surrounding ourselves with people that will validate our feelings,” Holt said. “Those emotions are a natural reaction to trauma and what we’re experiencing in the world is very traumatic.”