By JUJU CHANG and ANTHONY RIVAS, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Former NBA player Stephen Jackson says his longtime friend George Floyd, who called him his “twin,” was in the middle of getting his life together when he was killed Monday after he was apprehended by Minneapolis police and pinned to the ground for more than seven minutes with a knee on his neck while he pleaded for his life.
Jackson said on Wednesday that he wants the police officers responsible for Floyd’s death to receive the death penalty and that without that, the protests over his death will get worse. He spoke to ABC News just before a second night of what had been largely peaceful protests escalated into violence.
“You’re going to see more and more stuff going on which I don’t agree with, but people are not getting justice,” Jackson told Nightline co-anchor Juju Chang. “Just losing a job is not enough. These people are really hurt. You’re taking someone’s life just because you can, because you know you’re protected. … It’s going to get worse. Trust me, it’s going to get worse.”
“So let’s get this right. Make these men pay for what they’ve done to my brother and keep the peace,” he added, referring to the four Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest who were terminated from their jobs Wednesday.
Jackson, who won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, said he could have “easily” been Floyd if it were not for the opportunities he had been given that led him down a different path. Jackson was born in Port Arthur, Texas, but regularly visited Floyd in his hometown of Houston. Jackson said the two became close and that they “looked out for each other” in Houston’s South Side.
“When I was in Houston, he looked out for me,” Jackson said. “So … it was a relationship that grew over just being in the streets, growing up together. And we just became tight over the years, and the fact that we look alike made us grow even tighter.”
As they grew older, Jackson said Floyd was there to support him during the 14 seasons he spent in the NBA, through all the ups and downs. Floyd, who was a high school football star and also played basketball, lived through Jackson’s success.
“Every city, every team I played on, everywhere I was, we talked. He was excited. Everything I did,” Jackson said. “He was excited because the first thing he said was, ‘My twin is doing this. My twin is doing that.’ He lived through me. He knew he had the talent, he had the same skills and everything I had. … I just had more opportunity.”
Jackson said that although Floyd had associated with the wrong people in Houston — he was charged in 2007 with armed robbery and sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal in 2009 — he had moved to Minneapolis to build a better life. He said Floyd had “beat the hood.”
“He’d been through a lot of stuff in his life — a lot of stuff — and to make it out after you rehabilitate yourself and you’re intelligent enough to know I can’t go back to the same surroundings because it’s gonna bring me back to the same spot,” Jackson said.
“He was excited to tell me he was driving trucks and he was going to Minnesota and start over — get a new start,” he continued.
He said that the last time they spoke, one year ago, Floyd was preparing for a job interview in which he planned to wear a suit handed down by Jackson.
“He’s like, ‘Man, it fit me, man. I even got the shirt with your initials because I want people to know my twin gave me this shirt,'” Jackson said. “That’s the type of person he was. … He wanted everybody to know that we called each other ‘twin.’ And like I say, there wasn’t many more people that was [more] proud of me than Floyd.”
In addition to moving to Minnesota for work, Jackson said Floyd also wanted to become a better father.
“He [was] proud to see me live on my best days and being in a good place. He was happy to see that, and that’s the direction he wanted to go. … We were going in that direction together, and that’s what I’m going to miss most about him — that I know his best days were now. He was living his best days. He was becoming his best self,” Jackson said.
Although a Minneapolis Police Department statement from Monday said Floyd “physically resisted officers” when they were called in “on a report of a forgery in progress,” Jackson said it would have been unlike Floyd to resist arrest.
“I know his character; that ain’t in his character. If you listen to him, he’s calling out for his mom. He’s calling out for his kids. This is a family guy. This is a loving guy,” Jackson said. “The last thing he was thinking about was resisting arrest.”
Jackson said that hearing about Floyd’s death was unexpected, and that “it hurts that it happened to a good person.”
“He was a stand-up guy and one of the best people I met. … His heart was always in the right place and the video, showing him not resisting and all that, it just killed me that my brother’s not here,” he said.
Jackson said the video showing Floyd handcuffed and on his stomach as a Minneapolis police officer pressed down on his neck made him angry. In the video, Floyd could be heard calling for his late mother and pleading with the police to ease up on his neck, saying, “I can’t breathe, please, the knee in my neck.”
“[It] makes me angry. Makes me so angry because Floyd is one of the strongest people, you know. But to hear that scream and that cry for help in his voice, it’s just wrong. It’s just wrong. And he cried out for help,” Jackson said tearfully. “It’s just wrong man. It’s just wrong. No way around the boy, it’s wrong. … Just picture it being a white guy with black cops. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”
Jackson said this incident with Floyd shouldn’t be the wakeup call people need to start caring about police-involved killings. There have been “hundreds of other incidents” that should have woken people up, he said.
He also called out those who appropriate or buy into black culture, whether that’s music or clothing, and implored them to step up.
“You cannot say you love me as the entertainer, actor or news personality … and not love my people as a whole,” Jackson said. “The white people that want to be black when it’s time to buy music or it’s time to be at concerts or it’s time to dress black, if you want to be black, there is time to be black now. … It’s time for you to come … and support the black culture.”
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