Civil rights leaders, elected officials and family members and friends converged Thursday on the campus of North Central University in Minneapolis to memorialize George Floyd, the Black man whose death while in police custody became a flashpoint for outrage and protests over police brutality and racism in the country.
Floyd was laid in a gold casket and a giant image of a mural of Floyd was displayed at the front of the sanctuary with the words “I can breathe now” — in reference to his pleas to police officers as they forcefully restrained him just before his death —posted at the bottom of the image.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was among those who spoke at the memorial, led a moment of silence that lasted 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck while he struggled to breathe — as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III stood silently in the sanctuary.
“What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country,” Sharpton said. “It is time for us to stand up and get up and say, ‘Get your knee off our backs.’”
Derek Chauvin, the officer who was recorded pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck during the May 25 incident, was arrested Friday and initially charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but the top count was upgraded to second-degree murder Wednesday.
Three other officers at the scene — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The incident, which was captured by an onlooker in a viral video, has spurred protests worldwide.
But the fight for justice and against systemic racism doesn’t end there, said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Floyd family.
“It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd, it was the pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd,” he said.
Floyd’s siblings and family members told personal stories that were alternately wistful and mournful, but not without humor. One brother, Philonise, elicited laughter as he talked about growing up poor alongside George, tossing around footballs and eating banana and mayonnaise sandwiches.
Rodney Floyd, another brother said, “We didn’t have much growing up in the house [but] we had love.”
The service concluded with gospel artist Hezekiah Walker singing “Every Praise,” as guests hugged the family members.
While the event was open only to invited guests and family members, hundreds of people gathered outside the chapel, where T-shirts with images of Floyd and “I can’t breathe” across his mouth were on sale.
Other memorial services are planned for Floyd, including one Saturday in Raeford, N.C., where some of his family lives.
Another service is scheduled for Monday in Houston, where Floyd lived for many years.