Family and friends mourned George Floyd in song, memories and prayer, while political figures including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Joe Biden, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Al Green (D-TX) said that his death should be an inflection point in racial justice.
The families of Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean and Eric Garner — other unarmed African American men whose killings stirred outrage — attended the funeral service in Houston along with celebrities including Jamie Foxx, boxer Floyd Mayweather, and Channing Tatum. Ne-Yo sang a rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday.”
Sharpton spoke of fighting “wickedness in high places” as he talked of “fighting an institutional systemic problem that has been allowed to permeate since we were brought to these shores.” But he specifically referred to President Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church last week, where he posed with a Bible. Just before Trump’s visit, there was a chaotic scene in the area when police forcefully cleared protesters.
“You take rubber bullets and tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters and then take a Bible and walk in front of a church and use a church as a prop — wickedness in high places,” Sharpton said.
Lee spoke of Floyd’s life of being one of an “assignment” to call attention to police brutality, with the crowd of mourners standing in applause at some moments. She referred to the length of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was captured on video with his knee on Floyd’s neck, during which he stopped breathing.
“The assignment of George Floyd and the purpose will mean there will be no more 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police brutality,” Lee said. “There will no more 8 minutes and 46 seconds of injustice and mistreatment of African American men at the hands of the laws of this nation or anyone else. There will no more 8 minutes and 46 seconds that you will be in pain without getting justice.”
She also referred to the protests across the country since Floyd’s death, perhaps forcing lawmakers to address the problem of police brutality and others to engage in introspection over racial inequality in general.
“I want to acknowledge those young marchers in the streets,” Lee said. “Many of them could not be in this place. They are black and brown, they are Asian, they are white. They are protesting and marching and I’m saying, as a momma, I hear your cry. That is what George Floyd wanted us to know.”
The funeral was carried live across broadcast and cable networks, reflecting the way that Floyd’s death has sparked a national outcry.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, visited Floyd’s family on Monday, but said in a video that ran during the service, “We cannot turn away. We must not turn away. We cannot leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away from racism that stings at our very soul and from systemic abuse that still plagues American life.
“As Thurgood Marshall once implored, ‘America must dissent from indifference … we must dissent from fear, the hatred, and the mistrust … we must dissent because America can do better … because America has no choice but to do better.’ “
The service at Houston’s Fountain of Praise Church was private, but thousands attended a viewing of his body on Monday. Services also were held last week in Minneapolis and in North Carolina.
At one point in the service, Biden directed his remarks to Floyd’s daughter, Gianna.
He said, “I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations. Why? Why is Daddy gone?
“In looking through your eyes, we should all be asking ourselves why the answer is often too cruel and painful. Why, in this nation, do too many black Americans — wake up knowing they could lose their life — in the course of living their life? Why does justice not roll like a river nor righteousness like a mighty stream? Why?”
The mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, said that he would issue an executive order that would ban police chokeholds, among other measures, while Green spoke of congressional Democrats’ proposals, unveiled on Monday, for sweeping police reforms.
George Floyd’s brother, Philonese Floyd, said, “People are crying right now. That is how much they loved him. I am just staying strong as I can, because I need to get it out. Everybody wants justice, we want justice for George. He’s going to get it.”
Sharpton, delivering the final eulogy, talked of how Floyd’s death has galvanized a new movement even though he was not famous, Ivy League educated or a celebrity sports figure.
“God took an ordinary brother from the housing projects that nobody thought much about but those that knew him and loved him,” Sharpton said. “He took the rejected stone. The stone that the builder rejected. They rejected him for jobs. They rejected him for positions. They rejected him to play certain teams. God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that is going to change the whole world.”
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