‘He was like the general’: Mourners grieve George Floyd at memorial service

MINNEAPOLIS – Hundreds streamed into a memorial service Thursday to salute and grieve George Floyd – recalled as a gentle soul and commanding presence – and demand justice for a life cut short by “evil.” 

Family members, activists and other mourners paid tribute to Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis police custody was captured on a video that has horrified much of the country and precipitated widespread protests.

The president of the university hosting the memorial service said a scholarship would be established in Floyd’s name, and he urged his colleagues at other colleges to follow suit. Scott Hagan, the head of North Central University, said he has already received $53,000 in donations for the scholarship fund.

“It is time to invest like never before in a new generation of young, black Americans who are poised and ready to take leadership of our nation,” Hagan said. “So university presidents, let’s step up.”

Floyd’s brothers shared stories about the gentle nature of their 6-foot-4 brother, who despite his imposing size was a magnet for friends in their Houston community.

“It was just amazing. Everywhere you’d go and see people how they’d cling to him. They wanted to be around him,” brother Philonise Floyd said. “George, he was like the general. Every day he walks outside and there’s a line of people. They wanted to greet him and wanted to have fun with him.”

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing the family, focused more on the need for justice not just for Floyd but others who have suffered a similar fate. 

The four police officers linked to Floyd’s arrest and killing have been dismissed from the force and charged with crimes, the most serious of the charges being second-degree murder.

“What we saw in that video was evil. So America, we proclaim as we memorialize George Floyd, do not cooperate with evil. Protest against evil,” Crump said, his voice rising as those in attendance stood up to applaud. “Join the young people in the streets protesting against the evil, the inhumane, the torture that they witnessed on that video.” 

The first of several services scheduled for Floyd, culminating with his funeral Tuesday in Houston, comes a day after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced criminal charges against three of the four police officers at the scene of his killing May 25.

The fourth officer, Derek Chauvin, also had a charge of third-degree murder against him upgraded to second degree. Chauvin is seen on the video kneeling against the neck of a handcuffed Floyd, and court documents released Wednesday indicate the policeman kept the pressure on for two minutes after another officer failed to detect a pulse on Floyd.

The graphic images of another black man being killed by a white police officer – the death was ruled a homicide by the Hennepin County medical examiner – have sparked more than a week of protests, initially in Minneapolis and quickly spreading across the country and even internationally.

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Ellison was among the elected officials who on Thursday stopped by the growing memorial of flowers and signs outside Cup Foods at East 38th Street and Chicago Ave, where Floyd was arrested and killed.

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Val Demings of Florida and Maxine Waters of California also paid their respects at the site, joining other mourners in prayer.

Briana Matrious and Mary Davis, both Native Americans, made the one-hour trip from Pine City seeking to share their heartbreak with others who felt the same way.

“We were struggling,” Matrious said. “What do we do with that grief? What do we do with that sadness? What do we do with that hurt that is so deep?”

The majority of the demonstrations following Floyd’s death have been peaceful as protesters held up signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and chanted “I can’t breathe,’’ Floyd’s last words as he lay on a Minneapolis street pinned by Chauvin.

But at times the rallies have turned violent and led to confrontations with law enforcement, reflecting the anger built over years of racial injustice and black lives snuffed out by police officers: Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., both in 2014; Freddie Gray in Baltimore in 2015; Philando Castile outside St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2016; Stephon Clark in Sacramento in 2018; and now Floyd, who was 46.

A study last year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that about one black man in every 1,000 gets killed by police, compared with one in 2,460 for white men, who outnumber black men by more than five times.

Floyd, who was arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill, has become the latest symbol of the simmering frustration over inequities felt by the black community, whose grievances have often gone unheeded.

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In a televised town hall Wednesday, former President Barack Obama referenced the “institutionalized racism’’ he said has long plagued the U.S. But he also sounded a note of hope as he noted the diverse, youthful makeup of the crowds demonstrating against police brutality and racial bias.

“You look at those protests and that was a far more representative cross-section of America out on the streets,’’ Obama said, “peacefully protesting, and who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they had seen.’’

Floyd was loved in the Minneapolis community, friends say. He had a son and two daughters, one of whom is just 6.

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The day before he died, he was scheduled to meet with friend Wallace White to discuss getting involved with MAD DADS – Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder – but he couldn’t make it.

White watched the video on Facebook showing the brutal death of the friend he called a “gentle giant man.”

“That boy didn’t need to die like that. All the footage showed the man was not resisting him,” said White, 56. “He was loved by everyone around here. He was a real quiet guy, liked to have fun.”

Contributing: Nicquel Terry Ellis, Nora G. Hertel, St. Cloud Times

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