‘We got to act’: Minnesota ex-felon finds purpose at George Floyd memorial

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Alfonzo Williams waved his massive forearms and urged onlookers to clear the way for the procession of clergy members marching toward the site in his Minneapolis neighborhood where a white police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died.

Alfonzo Williams directs the crowd as local clergy members arrive at George Floyd’s memorial in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan O’Brien

Williams ushered local faith leaders to a spot where they preached and prayed with hundreds of grievers. Just feet away, Floyd, a black man, had spent the last nine minutes of his life face down on the pavement with the officer’s knee jammed into his neck.

Williams, a 43-year-old ex-felon and former gang member, believes divine intervention brought him and other members of the local black community to this moment and will guide their response to the tragedy that put the neighborhood in the global spotlight.

“By the grace of God I’m here and alive,” said Williams, who has been shot six times during his life. “I know God has a plan and this is part of it. We can’t sit around no more. If we want to have hope for the next generation, we got to act.”

Williams is a member of the Worldwide Outreach for Christ, a nearby church where he works security and helps organize events for the small congregation.

Before the deadly incident, he served as eyes and ears of this once-ordinary urban neighborhood. Now he is part host, part traffic cop at the sprawling makeshift memorial for Floyd, the latest casualty of police violence to become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I fallen into my role. It’s crazy. I can’t sit down,” he said, resting his sore hip in his truck after working the crowd, helping set up grills and move cases of bottled water.

Williams grew up in the neighborhood. He was a gang member who served time in federal prison for wire fraud and identify theft for stealing $1.8 million. 

Since leaving prison 10 years ago, “I haven’t looked back,” said Williams, who now owns a demolition and landscaping company. “I learned in prison that it was not for me. You got to make choices, the right decisions.”

Since Floyd’s death, Williams has been at the scene every day to help organize and provide emotional support to grievers.

“I’m using my life experience to deal with the emotional stress and everything that is out here,” said Williams, his eyes welling with tears. “I don’t want to do this, but my soul wants me to.”    

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Minneapolis; Editing by David Gregorio