George Floyd’s Uncle Tells How Nephew’s Death Changed His Life

On the fourth anniversary of George Floyd’s death, his uncle Selwyn Jones tells The Daily Beast how his nephew’s brutal killing turned him into an activist.Updated May 25, 2024 3:04AM EDT / Published May 24, 2024 11:21PM EDT exclusiveCourtesy of Selwyn JonesEvery day, Selwyn Jones misses his nephew, George Floyd.Today marks four years since Floyd, 46, was killed while in the custody

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On the fourth anniversary of George Floyd’s death, his uncle Selwyn Jones tells The Daily Beast how his nephew’s brutal killing turned him into an activist.

Tom Lawrence

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Selwyn Jones next to a mural of his nephew, George Floyd

Courtesy of Selwyn Jones

Every day, Selwyn Jones misses his nephew, George Floyd.

Today marks four years since Floyd, 46, was killed while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. In death, he has become a martyr—a symbol of the oppression and violence routinely visited on Black people by the forces of law and order.

But to his uncle, he was a big, good-natured guy who loved to laugh. That’s the person Jones misses seeing and talking to, he told The Daily Beast.

Jones said he was playing softball in Gettysburg, S.D., the small town in the center of the state where he lives, when he learned of his nephew’s death under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Floyd’s death inspired Jones to start campaigning against police violence, as well as speaking out against domestic violence, gun violence and sex trafficking.

“I’m trying to make a difference,” Jones said.

He has made numerous appearances across the country and conducted countless media interviews. Jones said he feels a duty to speak up so other families don’t have to endure the pain he has been forced to live with for the last four years.

“It’s been absolutely chaotic ever since,” he said.

Jones started by appearing at demonstrations over Floyd’s death in Rapid City and Sioux Falls that week. He asked for the events to be nonviolent, but the Sioux Falls rally, which had been peaceful, ended in chaos with some people storming a mall and Gov. Kristi Noem calling in the National Guard.

Since then, Jones has toured the country, appearing in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and other major cities. He also has launched a podcast called Setting It Straight, was featured in GQ magazine in 2020, and now has a media consultant, George Savage of New York City, who describes himself as “an international publicity ninja and strategist.”

On April 18, Jones took part in a Harvard University symposium, called “Channeling Grief Into Activism” that also featured Gwen Carr. She is the mother of the late Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Black man who was put in a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. Garner was accused of selling single cigarettes without a tax stamp.

He said “I can’t breathe,” 11 times but Pantaleo would not loosen his grip. No criminal charges were filed, but Pantaleo was fired five years later, and the city paid Garner’s family a reported multi-million-dollar settlement.

Jones, 58, said he feels an obligation to continue to speak out. He was not involved in civil rights activism before his nephew’s death, and said he is still not interested in politics. But this is something he must do, Jones said, so he will go where he is invited to lend his voice.

“Oh my God, man, you name it, I’ve been at it,” he said. “I’ve been continuously fighting the battle.”

Selwyn Jones, uncle of George Floyd, speaks with reporters in front of the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Selwyn Jones, uncle of George Floyd, speaks with reporters in front of the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Jones had been a vacuum cleaner salesman who also played professional indoor football. When he came to South Dakota, he switched his focus from football to softball, and he and his wife, JoLynda Jean Jones, bought a hotel, KJ’s Inn and Suites.

It was a relaxed, low-key life and Jones was content. Then came the events of May 25, 2020. Jones spoke out against the murder of his nephew and he became well-known in South Dakota.

He objected to the inclusion of the Confederate flag on the Gettysburg police logo, uniforms and vehicles. It was added in 2009, the same year Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

Town officials said that was a coincidence. They said Gettysburg, founded in 1883, two decades after the famous Civil War battle, was merely honoring its heritage. Jones said the rebel flag did not belong.

After a brief public debate, it was removed from the logo, uniforms and vehicles.

Jones said his opposition to the logo has not been forgotten. A racist insult was scrawled on a wall in town, and he said some local residents are still angry about the change.

“We got it taken off, but people are mad a Black man had something taken from their town. I went from being a good dude to a piece of trash,” he said. “That’s the power and control issue.”

Jones said South Dakota is a deeply racist state.

“It’s not underlying racism,” he said. “It’s full racism.”

He said when he speaks around the country, people are excited. They want to see “Uncle Selwyn” as he refers to himself.

But not in the state where he lives—“because of how people are,” he said.

Jones said despite what locals think of him he has no plans to leave South Dakota. He likes the slower pace of life and is content with his home and business.

“I’ve worked too hard for this. I’ve worked too hard for my house and for what I’ve got,” he said. “Nobody’s going to chase me out. I never let anybody judge me by the color of my skin. I’m a proud Black man.”

He has made some appearances in South Dakota, speaking at a couple of colleges in the state, and meeting with the Rapid City police chief in 2020.

People raise their fists following the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin on April 2src, 2src21, in Atlanta, Georgia

People raise their fists following the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

There have been other challenges for Jones.

On June 10, 2023 he was found unresponsive in his hotel, with marijuana, two methamphetamine pipes and other drug paraphernalia nearby. Jones was treated by emergency responders, and then was taken into custody by the Gettysburg Police Department. A search warrant was then served, with multiple law enforcement agencies involved.

Jones was indicted by a Potter County grand jury on two felony and two misdemeanor counts. He is free on a personal recognizance bond.

Tarin James, 32, of Gettysburg, was charged with possession of a controlled substance, ingesting controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.

Jones did not want to discuss the arrest in detail, saying it was an “ongoing investigation” and he expects all charges to be dismissed.

“I was a victim of someone I thought was a friend of mine,” he told The Daily Beast. “Don’t believe everything you read. I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine. I’ve been put in some bad situations only because I’m George Floyd’s uncle and I’m Black.”

He talks about his nephew to promote the causes he cares about, but he also reflects on the life of his sister, Larceina Floyd, who died in 2019. George was one of her five children, Selwyn said.

While they lived in different parts of the country—Jones in North Carolina and South Dakota, and Floyd in Texas and Minnesota—they talked often and saw each other several times a year, Jones said.

“I was an uncle. You can talk to uncles about girls and doing things,” he said. “I seen George, depending on when it was needed.”

Jones said his nephew was fun to be around and loved to “laugh and joke, because that was free.”

Jones said he misses seeing and talking with his nephew. There are specific things he recalls when talking about him.

“His laugh. His smile,” he said. “His bigness.”

In death, George Floyd has become famous and his name resonates across the country. But Jones said that doesn’t provide much comfort.

“He would have traded it, every second, because this is not what he wanted,” he said. “This isn’t a group you want to be in.”

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