The morning routine for P.J. Hill is as consistent as it is lengthy. The day starts with a 15-mile bike ride at 6:15 a.m., allowing the former Ohio State men’s basketball player to get a fresh perspective on his day ahead.
This past Wednesday, however, was different. Much had changed in the neighborhood where he lives in his hometown of Minneapolis.
So Hill abandoned his morning ride and instead left his home to film the aftermath of reactions to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested by four white police officers on Monday.
The incident, which has led to the arrest of the officer who pinned down Floyd’s neck with his knee for nearly nine minutes and ignored Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe, had taken place two blocks from Hill’s house. The community reaction was swift and visceral.
Hill wanted to see what was happening, and what he saw led to a video and a means to use his background as a mentor and motivational speaker as part of a movement seeking justice.
"Life has been crazy," Hill told The Dispatch in a telephone interview on Saturday. "It’s like war literally, anarchy. No government, no intervention, and people literally are just lawless. That’s the only way I can put it. It’s unfolding right in front of your eyes. You feel like you’re in ‘Grand Theft Auto.’"
Hill played three seasons at Ohio State, from 2007-10, mainly as a backup to star guard Evan Turner. Hill had 14 starts among his 82 career games and averaged 2.5 points per game.
Since leaving OSU, Hill has fashioned a successful business career. He works as a financial adviser, owns a real-estate company and works as a basketball coach.
After posting his Wednesday video of the damage he witnessed throughout Minneapolis, Hill took a phone call from Cindy Murphy, a family friend and retired executive from General Mills, who encouraged him to put himself on the front line and get his message across.
On Thursday, Hill met with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other leaders within the African American community. On Friday, he stood in the middle of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis with a megaphone speaking to a crowd of thousands.
"We are upset, and I understand that you want to tear everything down," Hill said of his message to protesters. "Unheard voices, that’s what happens, they riot. But when is enough enough? Is this the right way, to destroy the city?
"We still want you to fight for justice. But now, what does justice look like for you? What is a win in this situation? Not only short-term, but what is a win long term?"
It wasn’t Hill’s only speech of the week, nor his only experience documenting what he has been seeing. Friday evening, Hill said he was out among looters when he saw people going in and out of a boarded-up gas station. He walked in, filming the scene, and heard the voice of one of the four people inside telling him no cameras allowed over the grinding sound of a chainsaw.
He looked to his right saw the woman closest to him holding a gun to his face. He quickly exited the store.
"As I was backing up trying to get into my car, she came out and pointed the gun at me again," Hill said. "I was trying to show the aftermath (with my video). You look over and you’ve got a gun pointed at you, there’s no police, no ambulance, all the roads are burned up. Who’s going to call 911 for me?"
The experience put an end to Hill’s filming endeavors, but it did not stop him from being active within the community. The next morning, Hill helped bring in volunteers and parents of basketball players he has coached to help clean up the streets. Much of the day was spent sweeping glass and cleaning up businesses that were damaged.
"Compassion is still inside of everybody," he said. "We are all Americans. I saw whites, blacks, Somalis, everybody working together. We were actually cleaning Wells Fargo, cleaning Office Max, these corporate businesses. Nobody from corporate is there, but civilians are cleaning it out, fixing it up, pushing all the water out, sweeping up the broken glass. It was an amazing sight to see."
Then it was back to where it all tragically started, outside the Cup Foods corner store, where Floyd was killed, directly across the street from where Hill and his family go to church. Saturday evening saw Floyd’s family members on hand for another peaceful protest, away from most cameras and the violence that has continued throughout Minneapolis and elsewhere in the country.
Again, Hill was given the opportunity to address the crowd.
"It’s hard to talk to a crowd when they’re angered and filled with rage and they want to riot and say white people are the enemies and all cops are bad," he said. "They’re not. I want people to take this time and really reflect on this time to fight for justice and do what’s right.
"If all else fails, do what you think is right."