After George Floyd
Trymaine Lee: To say that George Floyd's murder shook America would be an understatement. We watched his slow death unfold before our eyes. And we counted the minutes and the seconds that it took for a disgraced former cop to squeeze his life away. And it ached. But for nearly all of us, this aching, distributing spectacle of police violence and Black death was felt from a distance, physically, geographically.
And for those who don't know, or love people like George Floyd, or live in communities like his, it very well could have felt like peering into a far off universe, nothing like your own. In that way we were all spectators, haunted by what we saw and what we felt, but distanced spectators nonetheless.
There were others who didn't have the privilege of distance. People who where there in Minneapolis on that terrible day last year and saw it happen with their own eyes. During the trial of Floyd's murderer, Derek Chauvin, we heard from witness after witness who stood just feet away.
Archival Recording: I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doin' more.
Archival Recording: I couldn't help but feel helpless. I don't have a mama either. And I understand him.
Archival Recording: And when you went out there, what did you see?
Christopher Martin: I saw people yelling and screaming. I saw Derek with his knee on George's neck, on the ground. George was motionless, limp. And Chauvin seemed very, he was in a resting state. Meaning like he just rested his knee on his neck.
Lee: That last one was Christopher Martin. As an 18-year-old clerk at the corner store, Cup Foods, Christopher took the counterfeit $20 bill from George Floyd that day, prompting that fateful 911 call that drew Floyd, Chauvin, and a cast of reluctant witnesses together on May 25th, 2020.
In surveillance footage played during the trial, Christopher paces back and forth, his hands on his head, sinking as Floyd lay prone and then motionless. It was an image the nation came to know Christopher by. But there's more to his story.
He grew up in South Minneapolis, moved with his family into an apartment above the store just months earlier. And before that day, he was a teenager with a cool little gig at the shop who was trying to find his way in the world. But what he saw happen that day outside of Cup Foods would change him in ways he could have never imagined.
Martin: The only way I got through it was, God, I had to pray. And there was sometimes just be, "God, I need you. I can't do this alone," and just sit there in silence.
Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee. And this is Into America. On this week's episode we look toward the one year anniversary of George Floyd's death with a rare, intimate conversation with Christopher Martin. We talk about his life before George Floyd, the trauma of that day, and how he's trying to move forward a year later. Chris Martin has spent the last year wrestling with his role that day. Here's what he told Good Morning America in the days after he testified.
Martin: Not only am I, like, the contributing factor. I'm kind of, like, the big domino that fell. And then now all of the small dominoes are just scattered.
Lee: But before Chris's testimony was all over the news, before George Floyd was killed, he says he was just the jokester who played soccer.
Martin: I like to joke around a lot. Love spending time with my family. And I love the beautiful game. So those are the two things I would say that really define me.
Lee: When I talked to Chris, he's wearing a black hoodie, leaning back into a couch in the place he shares with his mom and sister. He says he goes to church often. And he's clearly super close with his family.
Martin: And I just have, like, a really strong support system. Even before, like, the trial, my mentor has been in my life for a long time. And he's done above and beyond things for me. So that's always a blessing. And then my family is always strong, and they're always supporting me.
Lee: He speaks in this even, honest way and has the same striking composure that he kept during the trial. Even when I asked him a question that most teenagers probably don't want to hear. So before, you know, you're jokin' around. You're playin' soccer. You know, what did you envision your life? Like, what what you thinkin' about? You were, I guess, 18 years old. What were you thinkin' about doin' with your life?
Martin: Well, to be brutally honest, I have no idea. That's one of my, I struggle in that area. Because I don't really give myself enough credit. And not even that, I don't see myself going as far as other people see me going, if that makes any sense.
I feel like the people around me can see my potential a lot easier than I can. So at that time I was just worried about finishing high school. I would wake up at, like, 6:00 something and then I would go to my mentor's office downtown with him.
And then I would do my school work. After that, I would take the bus back to my house. Maybe chill, get some snacks or something, and then I would go to work from 3:00 to close, pretty much every day, except for Wednesday and Sunday. So I was always on the go, pretty much.
And it was fun. I mean, getting to know the regulars in the store and then, like, getting to know my co-workers, it was super fun. I mean, as you see in the video, we were always laughin', jokin', just messin' around, livin' life.
Lee: I want to say lookin' at it, I used to work at the movie theater when I was, you know, about your age. And it was just the best job ever. Everybody was young. You see everybody comin' in. Lookin' at y'all was like, you know, this look like a little family. Looked like y'all was kickin' it. (LAUGH) It looked fun.
Martin: Yeah. It looked so happy and peaceful. And then it just, like, went the opposite direction.
Lee: So you were in this place where you're livin' above the store, got a job downstairs. You're tryin' to get, like, through high school and just make your way. Everyone sees a lot in you. But you're tryin' to figure yourself out. And then on May 25th, 2020, everything changed. And I wonder. Did you have a sense of how seismic the shift in your life would be? Even then, did you notice that something big was happening?
Martin: In that moment, I knew it was a big deal. Someone had just gotten their life taken away. But I guess in my mind I didn't really connect the fact that everyone was recording. So what scared the crap out of me was when I went home, and I get on TikTok, and there's just, like, a TikTok. And I'm it.
Martin: And it's just, like, millions of views. And I'm just like, "This is insane." And then, like, the next day going back home, I was just where I live. And there's, like, thousands of people on the block. Like, it's literally crowded. You can barely even walk. Everyone's honking. It's just, like, I had never seen anything like it, so. But yeah, I had no idea it was gonna be on this big of a scale.
Lee: What was going through your mind when you go onto TikTok and you see this? What is your first reaction? Like, what were your first thoughts?
Martin: I was shocked because of how many views it had gotten. But at that same moment, I was a little bit afraid because I was wondering if, like, I would get any backlash because as I'm the one that took the bill, and all those other things.
Lee: Backlash from who?
Martin: Just from anyone. Like, mostly just, like, social media backlash which obviously isn't a big deal. That was, like, the first thing I thought of was, like, people are gonna be commenting this, this, and that, which actually didn't happen. But that was one of my fears.
Lee: So there was concern that people, like, might misconstrue your role in this and somehow project somethin' onto you.
Martin: Yes. Absolutely. That's what I thought was gonna happen.
Lee: The craziest thing, man, is, like, you just went to work one day. Just went to work, and then everything, just the world cracked open. Does it feel like that? Like, you've been living in some sort of alternate shaken world since?
Martin: (LAUGH) No, not really. But I'll be honest. When I think about that day and, like, how it made me feel, I think I am a lot more traumatized than I realize. Because I can't really pinpoint a feeling on it. If that makes any sense. My mind just kinda, like, blocks it out.
It won't let me, like, access certain parts of that day. And I also had never seen him in Cup Foods. So usually I'm pretty familiar with who comes in and out. Because I work cashier. But that was the first time I had seen him, and the first time I had talked to him.
And unfortunately the last. But yeah, I just remember, like, taking the bill from him, telling my boss, and then going back outside with my hand on my head. And honestly I was feeling, like, very helpless and panicky. And also, like, when I had to talk to one of my bosses after it happened, I literally, like, had a panic attack while I was talkin' to him about it.
He, to this day, doesn't even know that I did. It just kinda happened where, like, my heart is just, like, beating through my chest. And I've, like, fainted from a panic attack, but usually when it happened, just, like, my heart beats through my chest. And I just, like, can't function.
Lee: So you have the incident, the weeks you're wrestling with all this. When did y'all decide to move? 'Cause you were right there? The crib was right over the top of the store. What prompted that move?
Martin: So I actually was the one that made my mom and sister leave the house. Because I came back, like, either the day after or two days later. And they were just sitting inside. And I was like, "Mom." I was yelling at her. I was like, "Mom, why are you still here?"
Like, "I know you and Angel are high anxiety right now. Get up and leave. Like, go anywhere." And so what happened was, when they left obviously we didn't have a place to go right away. So they had to go and stay in a hotel. My church helped them, I think, with the finances.
And then some lady that my mom met actually helped her find the place that we're at now. And at first it was just my mom and sister living here. I live with my youth pastor. And then I eventually moved back here as well. And now we all three live here. And I'm pretty sure my mom and sister stayed at the house for at least four or five days. And then they moved. But I was in and out all those four days. I didn't sleep there ever.
Lee: What? Well, you just didn't feel comfortable bein' there? What was it?
Martin: I didn't feel comfortable. I didn't feel safe. I knew it would make me very anxious. So I just did not want to be around it.
Lee: And how long had y'all lived there before May 25th?
Martin: I'd say about five months.
Lee: So y'all basically just got there.
Martin: Yeah, not too long. I mean, not a year or anything like that.
Lee: Obviously, you know, the murder of George Floyd, it became protests not just in Minneapolis but across the country and across the world. It became this inflection point for America and the racial reckoning. And it got huge. But when did it settle on you that this was not just a murder which is already its own thing, but that it was something much bigger?
Martin: It settled for me when people started burning down, like, businesses in Minneapolis. I mean, I grew up in Minneapolis. So, like, what was it, Popeyes was burned down. I'd go there. I used to go there all the time. It's kinda just looking like, "Well, this was not needed." Obviously the protests were needed. But when it comes to burning down places, like, the African American community is always in and always going in and out of. It was just like, "Why?"
Lee: I mean, obviously you've seen this place that's very familiar to you, right. And you've seen it up in flames. But when you saw young people out there your age, did you understand it and think it was wrong? Or did you just not understand what was happening in the big scheme at all?
Martin: I understood why they were protesting. But more and more that I kinda looked into it and took a step back and thought about it, I did understand why people were protesting. Because as they were saying, like, they tried to protest peacefully. And that didn't work.
So they were taking a different approach. Kinda saying, "You know, enough is enough." And I do think, like, people my age that were protesting were extremely courageous. Because personally, I did not go to a single protest because I did not want to get tear gassed or shot with rubber bullets. So I chose to not to go those. But I actually had a couple of friends that went to 'em. And I just thought like, "Wow. Couldn't be me."
Lee: Yeah. I wonder what was life like in the weeks and months between, you know, George Floyd being murdered and then just, like, normal life settling in? Did people recognize you? Like, were you being stopped? Like, what was the dynamic like after that?
Martin: I didn't really get noticed. When it first happened, it was really, like, hard for me to deal with. And just, like, the people at my church were very supportive. And my family of course and my youth pastor, they were all helping me out and praying for me. So yeah, not too much changed after it happened. But yeah.
Lee: When you say it was hard to deal with, you know, that's different for different people. For you as you were wrestling with the reality of what went down, what was the hardest part for you?
Martin: I think the hardest part for me was when I would sit back and think of like, "What if?" That part really haunted me. Because obviously no one in the store knew that he would lose his life. But it's just the simple fact of like, "What if I would have not said anything and just taken the bill and then paid for it later on?"
Or like, "What if I had just told him to leave? Like, drive away, go home, or whatever." There's so many, "What ifs?" in this situation. Like, it just drives you crazy. Because you know you can never go back in time and change it. But in my mind when I think of a "what if" I kinda play it out and try to see what would happen. Just kind of makes me feel insane at that point.
Lee: You know, you've talked about you in the moment as the big domino. And then it tipped and scattered all the small dominoes. And we saw example kind of fall after that. Looking back a year later, how do you assess your space in the big domino? Do you still see yourself that way? Or now in hindsight, do you see things a little differently?
Martin: I definitely do see things a little differently. I'd probably say I'm more the medium-sized domino. And then also I kinda tried a few times to just stop all the other ones from falling, if that makes any sense. I kind of went off course purposefully. But yeah, definitely, over time and the more I analyze the situation, I feel less and less guilty about it.
Lee: Less and less. So it's still there. But you're slowly relieving yourself of some of that.
Lee: Wow. So in that moment as you reflect now and you're assessing this thing, "I tried." What did that look like? What were you tryin' to do?
Martin: I think I was referring to when I told my manager I would pay for the cigarettes. Or I would just cover it. And that was one area too, where I feel like my manager got a lotta backlash where it was unneeded. Because in hindsight what my manager was trying to do was allow me to correct the wrong of taking the bill in the first place. He was just like, "No, you're good. You don't have to pay for it. Just tell him to come back inside." And so I would say that was when I was trying to stop everything else from escalating and getting worse.
Lee: You know, for those of us who watched this whole thing play out from afar, you know, it became kind of a proxy or shorthand or vehicle for, like, social justice and change in racism in America. But from those who were closest to that moment, it seems like it's a little something different. Was there something else that shifted in you from this moment?
Martin: I think that, yeah, the takeaway for me was more of, yeah, I would say it was more of a spiritual takeaway. Because in that moment when, like, my hands were over my head and I was looking at the whole scene, it kinda, like, felt like something supernatural was at work that I couldn't control.
And I thought it was evil. Obviously, what was happening to George was just, like, unexplainable. But it's like I kept thinkin' in my head, as I said before, you know, "What if?" Like, "What if I just go out there and move this dude or, like, try to fight him?"
Like, thoughts like that where I wasn't even too much thinking about white and black. And I was more thinking of, "This is a human, first and foremost. Secondly it's a father." That's what I was thinkin' about more than anything. Because I actually had to grow up without my father.
And so my first thought went straight to his kids. I'm like, "Wow, there's not a word for it." Growing up in African American household without a father, it creates a lot of arguments, problems. And there's not enough structure. So that's always hard to deal with.
Lee: You know, we think about trauma and surviving trauma and PTSD. One of the key things is returning to those moments, returning to that moment. And I wonder how, and I am not clinically trained. But it sounds like you experienced some obvious trauma there. How did you begin to push through it? You say you got the support system and the church and the people in your family. But how did you actually begin to move through it?
Martin: God. The only way I got through it was God. I had to pray. And I had to, like, look inside myself and pick myself up a lot of the times. Because, I mean, obviously I appreciate when people tell me, like, it wasn't my fault. But the more and more people say it to me, recently it's gotten extremely annoying.
Only because it's like, obviously, you know, that's something I struggle with. And then on top of that, you saying that to me doesn't make me feel any differently. And that's no offense to anyone, if you get what I'm saying. But it's, like, in that moment someone saying it's not my fault. It's like, "Okay, that's like a pat on the back," you know. That's not gonna change how I feel about the situation in any way, shape, or form.
Lee: You know, it sounds clear that you are a man of faith. And I wonder how your prayers changed during those tough times. What were you praying? How were you praying differently?
Martin: They started going from longer prayers to more short and direct prayers, I would say. And it would sometimes just be, "God, I need you. I can't do this alone," and just sit there in silence. So yeah, I would just say it was more direct.
Because that was one of the things my youth leaders told me is: you just have to tell God what you need in this moment. And I actually opened up to her about how I felt like a fraud. Because I felt like I was using God in a sense. Because, like, I didn't have a good relationship with him.
In my head, before the George Floyd thing happened, and then once it happened I felt like I was just kinda like, "Hey, help me through this," even though I wasn't spending time with Him before, praying before, and doing the things that I know that are correct to do.
And so she told me like, "Your relationship with God is different than everyone else's. Doesn't have to be perfect. And just because your relationship with him wasn't good before the George Floyd trial, that doesn't mean he wasn't still there for you."
Martin: So that kind of opened my eyes up a lot. Because I felt like when I was going through the trial, I didn't want to pray actually for a while. Because I felt like I was a hypocrite. I'm like, "Of course now I want to pray now that I'm going through something difficult." But why can't I pray when I get my paycheck? Or why can't I pray when something's good, you know? It's not just always asking God for something. It's thanking him for the things that he does for you every day. So.
Lee: How has your mother and your family responded to just everything that's come since May 25th of last year?
Martin: My mom has been doin' a lot better recently. When it first started happening, she wasn't doing too well 'cause everyone just was, like, calling her, like, day after day. And she's not an introvert. But she's also not an extrovert. So that caused a lot of stress for her.
But they've all been extremely supportive, telling me that I can talk to them at any time. And my sister also said that like, "We'll never understand what you're going through. But we're here for you if you just need to talk. And we can listen to you." And so I think that's brought us closer in that sense that knowing that we love each other and that we could be there for each other.
Lee: Have you actually opened up fully to them about everything that's been goin' on?
Martin: I actually have not. I don't know. In my head, it's like I don't really want to bring it up. Because I'm not sure if my sister really wants to talk about it. But yeah and, I mean, I know my mom would love to talk about it. But I have not brought it up. I've just kept it to myself.
Martin: I'm really prideful. There is a weakness. I'm very prideful.
Lee: We have to take a quick break. When we come back, Chris talks about the police, what it was like to testify in Derek Chauvin's trial, and what George Floyd's death triggers for him a year later. Stick with us.
Lee: We're back with more of my conversation with Christopher Martin, the store clerk who witnessed Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd nearly one year ago. Floyd's death prompted calls for police reform on a scale we haven't seen in decades. I asked Chris whether his views of policing have changed at all over the past year.
Martin: Well, actually before the George Floyd incident, I never have ever supported police in any way, shape, or form. But in my mind I've always known that obviously not all of them are bad. But I've never really liked them, supported them, wanted to talk to them, wanted anything to do with police.
I actually said that in my FBI interview. 'Cause they subpoenaed me, and I didn't want to do it. And then they were like, "Okay, well, if you don't talk to us, you're gonna have to come to court." I was like, "Um." So then I talked to them and I was like, "You know, I don't want to talk to police because I don't trust you.
"The system is rigged against us." When it comes to situations like that with the police I've actually seen with my own eyes my older brother get slammed against the wall because he told the police officer not to touch me. And that when I was, like, 13.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking outside my front door. I had my soccer bag. In the soccer bag was my water bottle and my cleats and my shin guards. And I had all my soccer stuff on. I don't even remember why they were at our house.
They were looking for something. But anyways, I go past the police officers. And one of them was like, "Hey, hey, what's in the bag?" And my brother was like, "Don't touch my brother." And then he literally just, like, slammed him against the wall.
And my heart's, like, racing. And I'm just like, I gave it to 'em. And it's obviously my water and cleats. And it's like that in itself is, like, just so uncalled-for. I am 13 years old. At that point I was maybe five foot tall. I don't know how tall. And you have to search my bag? And I'm walking out the front door. Like, that's where it's like, "Cops do not have the training they need at all." I don't know if you've seen it. But I saw the video of the 13-year-old who got shot in Chicago.
Lee: Chris is talking about Adam Toledo. Body cam footage appears to show Adam dropping a gun, then raising his arms. Less than second later, Chicago police officer Eric Stillman fires a single shot into his chest, killing him. This happened in March of this year.
Martin: And it's like, I honestly am getting tired of opening Instagram and seeing that little eye where it kind of blocks it out and it says, "See the video or skip it." I hate seeing those because I'm always like, "Don't watch it. Don't watch it."
And then before I know it, I'm watching it. And then, like, my heart is literally in my stomach. Because it's like, "How can you shoot a 13-year-old?" It's just like, those kind of things and though kind of, like, stories just get me so riled up when it comes police.
Because it's like, there's no explanation for what they do sometimes. And the fact that their job is to protect and serve, and they're just killing people because of their skin color, it all comes down to your morals as a human being in my opinion.
And I think the reason a lot of police officers are bad is because the police officers that are training in the new ones are bad. And so of course the new ones are gonna be bad because they're watching their superior advisors do whatever they want. I'm sorry for going on the tangent.
Lee: No, that's the whole point of this conversation, man. I want to get your insight. And you were there. And I want to ask you, man. Like, you have to vantage point of having witnessed one of these police murders. But I wonder, even during the best of times, those videos are always terrible.
I'm a journalist. And I've stopped sharin' them because I feel like we're just passin' trauma around, right. But do you watch these videos with a different lens now that you've experienced one of those killings up close and personal? Do they feel different?
Martin: Yeah. I would say yes. The one that I was talking about, about the boy, the 13-year-old in Chicago was like, "I don't even know." I think that's the second to worst one I've seen. The worst one I've seen is the guy that was jogging and got shot.
Lee: Ahmaud Arbery.
Martin: Yes. That is, like, engraved in my memory. It's the worst video I've ever seen in life. That is literally terrible. And when it comes to that, like, I think I posted something about that on my Snapchat story as a joke. But I'm dead serious. If that happens to me, I do not want any peace. Like, no. And I'm sorry. That sounds extremely drastic and terrible. And God forbid that ever happened. But, like, it's just ridiculous. I don't know.
Lee: I wonder after everything we've seen in the fallout of George Floyd's murder, if you think that there might be a chance for change, the big change that so many of us hope for. Or do you think that this is just another terrible incident in a long stream of terrible incidents?
Martin: I do think there are gonna be a lot more terrible incidents coming up. But I do also believe there can be a lot of change. One of the reasons is because I actually just recently visited a high school I used to go to called St. Thomas Academy. And I talked to my science teacher.
And he said that he hadn't educated himself at all. And after this George Floyd incident, he was like, "Wow." It kinda made him take a step back. Because he's like, "Obviously this is the most obvious thing I've ever seen. This is just blatantly racist." And I think if more people really just analyzed these situations, they can see that this is something that is not okay and something that we have to deal with.
Lee: So lookin' back at it, by the time we saw you, you seemed like you were there handling a business. You want to tell the truth. And you were very honest and open. You were unflappable. But when you heard that you were gonna be, like, called to court, what feelings were goin' through your mind?
Martin: So actually the prosecution called me up to see if I would do it. So a lot of the witnesses had the choice of whether or not to be on trial. And I actually chose to be on trial. And I wanted to tell the story from my point of view and just get it off my chest. But leading up to it, I wasn't thinking too much about it. Because it had been my first time in court. Like, I've never been arrested or anything like that. So I didn't what it would have been like. When I got there though, I was so nervous.
Archival Recording: And raise your right hand.
Martin: When the judge was like, "Spell your name," I felt like I was about to throw up.
Archival Recording: State your full name and spell each of your names.
Martin (testimony): Christopher Martin. C-H-R-I-S-T-O-P-H-E-R. Last name Martin. M-A-R-T-I-N.
Martin: Like, I was sweating bullets. My armpits were drenched.
Archival Recording: We saw you standing there with your hands on your head for a while, correct?
Martin (testimony): Correct.
Archival Recording: What was going through your mind during that time period?
Martin (testimony): Disbelief and guilt.
Archival Recording: Why guilt?
Martin (testimony): If I would have just not tooken the bill, this could have been avoided.
Martin: Actually during the first recess break, someone texted me and was like, "I'm watching you right now. You're doing so great." I was like, "What do you mean?"
Martin: Like, this is insane. And then once the trial was over, my phone was, like, ding central. I couldn't even get on my phone. It was ridiculous. Calls, FaceTimes, texts, Snapchats, Instagram DMs. It was crazy. Everyone was just like, "Oh, my God, you're on TV. Chris, what? You're on TV? Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh." You know, it was just, like, I don't even know.
Lee: But you sat there and you looked out. What did you see?
Martin: Okay, so I saw the jurors. And they looked laser-focused. So that was pretty intimidating. And then there was a lady on a typewriter writing everything I said. That was intimidating 'cause she was, like, really close to me. And then we had the judge.
There was also, like, one officer in the back of the room. And the best part about the trial was that I couldn't see Derek the whole time. Because he was behind, like, the judge's side. So I didn't have to look at him. I just had to look at who I was answering the questions, which was very nice. I was very appreciative for that. No, yeah, it was extremely intimidating. I mean, the lights felt ten times brighter. And it was silent. Whoever was talking, that's all you could hear. You couldn't hear anything else.
Lee: Why did you feel so compelled that you wanted to testify? Because a lotta people might say, "Man, I don't want any part of it. It was terrible and crazy. Y'all saw it. I'm done." But you wanted to get up there and tell the story. Why?
Martin: I really wanted to tell the story because I wanted to tell the world what really happened and then, this might sound bad. But I kind of wanted to save my own skin. 'Cause I felt like if I didn't get up there and say what really happened and, like, with the bill and how it was actually counterfeit, like, people would just be able to make their own assumptions and keep saying, "Oh, it wasn't fake."
Or, "Oh, they called the police for no reason." Or what it was. And then also I wanted to get it off my chest. Because I felt like I had just been holding it in for a while. And there's not a lot of people I could talk to about it. Because not a lot of people were there, you know.
And that was another thing that was extremely irritating, seeing people on social media say what happened, and this happened, that happened. And I was sittin' here like, "You have no idea. You weren't there. You heard it from the grapevine. And they heard it from whoever and so on and so on."
Lee: And after you you leave the courtroom for the last time, what happened next in terms of, like, the bigger story of your life?
Martin: So I got on my phone just to see, you know, what people were saying. And one of my close friends from high school was like, "Yo, you need to get on Twitter." I was like, "Why?" And he was like, "You're trending."
Lee: That's crazy.
Martin: And I get on Twitter. And I see this one person. I think I have the screenshot. And he said like, "Christopher Martin's composure is extremely well." Or some way he said it, the way he put it just made me, like, really feel good on my inside.
And just hearing that is like, all I could think of was like, "I'm just the product of what I was born into." I mean, if you meet my brothers and sisters, you understand why I am the way I am. I mean, my oldest brother is, like, my father figure in my life.
He's one of the biggest reasons why I'm so composed. I mean, he always drilled that into our heads. Like, "Don't panic. There's no time for panic." And so actually they had an investigator who gave me a ride there and back who was extremely nice. Can't remember her name. But extremely nice, extremely helpful.
After I saw that tweet that, I think it was someone famous had said that I was extremely composed, I started crying. I started, like, sobbing. It was, like, a ugly cry. Just because I just started to feel like the weight of the situation. Like, this is gonna be on TV.
And as I got on Twitter I kept seeing, like, these famous accounts, like, with the checkbox by it of course. And I'm like, "These are getting, like, thousands of views. Like, hundreds of thousands of views. And this person is talking about me."
Martin: And in that moment, I can't do anything but cry. And so I'm like, "Man." Like I said before, I couldn't really pinpoint my emotion. So I don't know. I just cried.
Lee: Ugly cryin', like?
Martin: Oh, like, sobbing.
Martin: And, like, you know, snot comin' out of the nose. And, like, you know where you do that (SNIFFING)? One of those? Yeah.
Martin: It was definitely a ugly cry. It was one of those cries where you lay down and take a five-hour nap afterwards.
Lee: I know you can't pinpoint it, but if you can get close to understanding, 'cause I want to understand. 'Cause to get to the point of an ugly cry, right, all the weight. You've testified. You've seen the tweets. And you're ugly cryin'. You can't talk with the snot. What was that?
Martin: I think it was relief honestly. I think it was relief that I got it over with and that people were supporting me honestly. 'Cause I had no idea while I was on trial what would happen when I left. I didn't know people were gonna be so supportive, you know.
I honestly thought that people would still point the finger. Like, "Wow, he coulda done this. Or he coulda done that." And it was literally the opposite. I got on Twitter and it was just like people, like, grown women saying like, "Wow. He's going through so much. Yada yada."
And, like, for a while I was like, "Eh," at some of what some people were sayin'. Because I feel like a lotta people thought I was just, like, a fragile, you know, individual or just completely shattered to the core. And I was like, "Okay, I'm going through a lot, you know. "But I'm still here. You know, you feel me. I can get to it. But yeah.
Lee: So then the verdict is read. Chauvin is guilty on all three counts. We can call him a murderer which we saw with our own eyes. What was that feeling like for you?
Martin: Man, that was a different feeling. Because I did not think he was gonna get all three charges. I'm gonna be brutally honest. I thought he was gonna get the second worse thing. So just to hear he got all three, I was like, "God is good." That's all I could think. I'm like, "Yes, that's what we needed."
Lee: Did it feel like the pages turning? Like, did that signal the end of anything for you?
Martin: Yes and no. Yes, because I feel like the job is done, you know. No, because I know, like, also I have to talk about it going forward. And then kind of, like, George's brother said, "Derek may be in prison. But, you know, George is in the ground." So, you know, I feel like that's one thing that any witness and anyone that knows George Floyd, like, we'll have to take that to our graves which really sucks. But, you know, that's just the way it is.
But I do think a lot of people are saying social media that this isn't even justice. This is just holding him accountable. And that was one thing where I felt stupid when I read that. Because when I first heard that he was proven guilty, I was like, "Wow, justice." And then to read like, "No, this isn't justice. This is just holding him accountable." I was like, "Wow, that's a good point. It's a good thing I didn't say anything."
Martin: It's crazy.
Lee: Have you been in touch with anybody from the store? Do you all still talk?
Martin: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, I have a few of them on Snapchat and Instagram. But I actually go there quite frequently. Because here, this is crazy. I still think this is crazy. People from Norway and, like, Australia will send me mail and cash. I'm just like--
Martin: --mesmerized. Yeah. Like, just money. Like, someone sent me, like, 100 bucks. I was like, "God bless you." But, yeah, so that's been fun to see.
Lee: What is that even like though? 'Cause obviously it's this weird level. Is it, you know, they feel for you a weird kind of celebrity? Like, how do you process that you get random cash from people somewhere? What is it?
Martin: Yeah, I don't know. I don't really know how to process it to be honest. I just accept it. I'm like, "Thank you."
Lee: Weird. Thank you.
Martin: Because I don't know. Yeah, it's weird to think about that. Like, I got on my Twitter once and I can't remember if it was New Zealand or something. Someone, they were like, "We're behind you here, Mr. Martin. You did a good job on trial." And I was like, "Thank you." Like, I'm known all over the world. That's pretty cool.
Lee: You're protecting yourself in some way. Like, your subconscious is like, "All right, we're not goin' there." But have you had moments where you felt triggered?
Martin: No. No, for the most part no. One thing that does get to me though is when I see, like, celebrities will post pictures of George and his daughter. And it just hits. I also have a picture on my Instagram of me sitting in front of the George Floyd memorial.
And that one hits different too. 'Cause it's, like, in black and white. And for me it just always hits home. Because my father, who is not in my life, is 6'6" from Detroit. So it's, like, I'm looking at someone that can embody my father. If that makes any sense. It's, like, weird.
Lee: Your relationship with your father, have you ever had a relationship with him?
Martin: No. The last time I spoke to him, I was 12. So I know he's been seeing me all over the news. So I wonder what he's thinking. Actually, like, a week and and a half ago, I told my mom I want to, like, get into contact with him if I can somehow, some way.
Lee: Mostly, all of this complicated those feelings. I mean, you have your father. And you see in George Floyd this tall man. Then you think about his daughters who are now growing up without a father. And you grew up that same way without a father in the house. And then you know he's out there. How is this kind of heightened or changed those feelings that you had towards your father, or wanting to have a relationship?
Martin: It made me feel a little bit more guilty about the situation. Because I'm like, "Dang, if I would have done something differently, his daughters wouldn't have to grow up how I did." Not to say that they're gonna end up how I did. And it's definitely made me want to contact my father just because of the simple fact of I don't want to get a call or a email or someone showing up at my door saying that he's dead.
That would be the worst situation ever. And so I just want to contact him and just let him know like, "You know, I'm here. This is what I'm doin' with my life. Hopefully if you want to be part of my life, I would be a part of yours." But I think the one thing I would tell my father if I saw him. And it sounds bogus. But I would just tell him I needed him. Like, and I mean, like, a past tense. I probably still need him. No, I wouldn't say all that. I don't need him now.
Martin: But it would be--
Lee: Carried away.
Martin: It would be--
Lee: You were sayin' there were times.
Martin: Yeah. It would be more than a blessing.
Lee: Some catch would have been nice.
Martin: Exactly. It would be more than a blessing to have him in my life now. But I would just look him dead in the eyes and tell him like, "I needed you, bro." Because I was a delinquent, kind of. But we are not gonna dive into that. 'Cause we'll be here all day.
Lee: Did you feel this way before May 25th?
Martin: Not really, no. I was more focused on myself. I didn't really think too much about him. And whenever I did think about him, I just think like, "Dang, it is what it is." I mean, it sounds pretty crumby. But.
Lee: You know, not to overstate this. And I'm glad you've been honest in this. But I want to ask how you've been changed by all this. I think in the most profound way, the biggest way. What's the biggest way you've been changed? Because, man, you've gone through it, man. And here you are.
Martin: Mentally. I would say that's the biggest part I've been changed in. And just on another personal note, I've gone through a lot mentally before the George Floyd thing happened. So the craziest thing I'll tell you today is, like, the George Floyd incident is not the worst part of my life.
And, I mean, it's not even close, which is very bad. I struggled through high school. It was very hard. And developed a lot of bad habits, had to get myself out of that. But yeah, I would just say mentally, man, it just challenged me. Because, I mean, I had the opportunity to say whatever when I was on trial, you know. Even now, you know, so. And it definitely challenges my pride as well which is extremely annoying.
Lee: Now, obviously we will only walk down this path as far as you want to walk. But if the killing of George Floyd was not the worst thing, which again it wasn't personal. It didn't happen to you or your family. So I kinda understand. But what is the worst thing? If the murder of George Floyd wasn't, witnessing that, what was?
Martin: Probably the worst thing I've gone through was when I had to go to treatment for a month. And I was just 17 years old. Basically I was doing drugs I should not have tried. And I lost my mind completely. I had to go through hell. I had a lotta conversations where I was looking out the window at God.
Like, "Why am I still here?" Multiple conversations like that. And, I mean, more than anything I put my mom through hell. Because I would call her and just say a bunch of crazy stuff. And she would literally, like, put her phone down and be like, "I'm on my way to go see him."
Martin: So yeah, that was awful. I mean, I cried I don't know how many nights. I had panic attack on panic attack. I don't know. I can look on it and smile now. But in that moment, I can't explain how dark and how low I was. And so with the George Floyd incident happening, I'm not gonna say it was easy. But it wasn't as severe mentally on me. So I knew I could handle it if that makes any sense. What I was going through when I was in treatment was, like, I quite literally couldn't handle it. And you could see it just by looking at me. So.
Lee: Wow. And you made it through.
Lee: Obviously you've been through a lot. And here you are still standing. And I wonder what brings you joy in this moment? We could talk about the dark times and the tough times. But in this moment today, what brings you joy, man?
Martin: Just chillin' with the people that I love and care about probably brings me the most joy. And when it comes to being by myself, soccer highlights, basketball highlights. Yeah, my team in soccer is doin' really well this year too, which is extremely clutch.
Lee: What team?
Martin: Manchester City.
Lee: Manchester City.
Martin: They're about to win the UC champion's league, hopefully, if I don't jinx 'em.
Lee: You know, you've been through a lot in life anyway. And you've managed to come out. You witnessed the murder of a man. You had to move. You testified against this officer. A year after the murder of George Floyd, where do you see the trajectory of your life?
Do you have a sense of what you might want to do moving forward? Because again a lot of us noticed, man, like, you're composed, smart. Like, again, I know everyone is always telling you that. And you don't know what to do with it. But do you have a sense of what you want to do moving forward?
Martin: So for the next couple years I feel like I'll probably still just keep my job at the retail store I'm working at at Adidas. I like it there. And the discount's nice. I think I'll probably live with my mom for about a year or two here. I think my sister will most likely move out in about a year and a half.
And then I'll take over her room. Or my mom will take over her room. And then I'll live here, save up some money, figure out what I want to do. But my main goal in life, I want to be a realtor. I want to either sell homes or cars, preferably homes.
Because I feel like I want to have a really nice house and then have nice cars as well, you know. But yeah, that's my dream to be able to have my own home and to provide my mom and my family a home of their own. Not just, like, one house for us all. Like, no, you get your own space.
Martin: And if they want to have a bigger home--
Lee: Definitely need--
Martin: --for us all--
Lee: --your own space. You get yours.
Martin: Yeah, exactly.
Lee: I got mine.
Martin: Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, that's the dream.
Lee: Next week on the show, we'll bring you the first part of our special coverage on the centennial of the Tulsa race massacre. We traced the story of two families who descended from survivors and their struggle to rebuild what was stolen 100 years ago.
And before we wrap today, we've got a quick favor to ask of you. We'd like to know more about you. We want to hear what you like about the show, what you don't like, what you want more of. So I hope you'll take a little survey for us so we can make a better podcast for you.
It's easy. Just text "America" to 66866. And we'll text you a link to a short survey. Again, text the word "America" to 66866. Standard text messaging rates apply. You can also find a link in our show notes. And your input really matters to us.
So we hope you'll take a few minutes to complete the survey. We really appreciate it. Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Aisha Turner. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. I'm Trymaine Lee. See you next Thursday.