HOUSTON – Relatives and elected leaders spoke passionately at Tuesday’s funeral for George Floyd, demanding reforms and justice for a black man whose death has shaken the world.
About 500 friends, family, political leaders and entertainers streamed into The Fountain of Praise church in Houston for what co-pastor Mia Wright called, “a home-going celebration of brother George Floyd’s life.”
Tuesday’s funeral, commemorating a man whose death has “changed the world,” was widely broadcast and streamed online.
The need for justice for the black community was the central theme that echoed through the remarks by several of the invited guests, a list that included Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Al Green.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, met Floyd’s family privately Monday and referenced his 6-year-old daughter Gianna in a video presentation.
“Now is the time for racial justice,” Biden said. “That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask, ‘Why?’ Because when there’s justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice in America. And then, as you said Gianna, your daddy will have changed the world.”
Later, Lee said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to overcome the words, ‘I can’t breathe.’ … “But I what I will say is the assignment of George Floyd and the purpose for me is there will be no more 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police brutality.”
Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes was caught on a video that triggered waves of protests – and could ultimately result in sweeping changes in the nation’s justice system.
“We have a responsibility to each one of them to make sure that we do not walk away today after having celebrated his life and not taken the next step to … assure the future generations that this won’t happen again,” Green said.
A horse-drawn carriage will transport Floyd’s remains to his gravesite following the private funeral, the final episode in a series of memorials celebrating a life that ended tragically at age 46.
More than 6,000 people lined up in blazing heat to pay their respects at Floyd’s viewing Monday. The funeral is being livestreamed from the church in Houston, Floyd’s hometown.
Besides the prominent politicians, his brothers and niece addressed an audience mostly outfitted with masks — some of them bearing Floyd’s resemblance — to avoid spread of the coronavirus. Early in the service, gospel singer Dray Tate performed his single “A change is gonna come” as an artist drew a painting of Floyd’s face on a large black canvas.
Two other drawings of Floyd, depicted with a halo over his head and angel wings at his back, were also prominently displayed at the stage.
Memorial services were held last week in Minneapolis and in Raeford, North Carolina, near where Floyd was born 46 years ago.
“Although it took 8 minutes and 46 seconds for him to die, it took 401 years to put the system in place,” Dr. Christopher Stackhouse said at the service in North Carolina. “A movement is happening in America, and I’m glad that all of us can say that it was George Floyd that sparked a fuse.”
Floyd’s anguished cries of “I can’t breathe” have been scrawled on murals and chanted at protests nationwide. Floyd was also heard crying out for his “mama.” He will be buried next to his mother, Larcenia “Miss Cissy” Floyd, who died two years ago.
Floyd grew up in Houston, a product of the Cuney Homes housing project – “The Bricks.” Standing 6-foot-6 and known as “Big Floyd,” he starred at football but struggled with grades. A series of brushes with the law grew serious in 2009, when he pleaded guilty to armed aggravated robbery and was sent to prison for four years.
After he was released in 2013, Floyd dedicated himself to helping young people avoid making the mistakes he made, friends say. He later moved to Minneapolis, and on Memorial Day a series of events took place that ended in his death, charges against four police officers and the world paying close attention.
The officers responded to a call from a teenage clerk at Cup Foods who suspected Floyd had purchased cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. Officers found Floyd in a car nearby with two other people and the confrontation began. A brutal effort by the officers to get Floyd in a police car ended in tragedy.
The reverberations have spread far beyond the arrest of those police officers. Confederate statues have fallen, pepper spray and chokeholds have been banned in some cities, and some cities are considering “defunding” their police departments. Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, representing the family, petitioned the United Nations to review America’s police practices and racial injustice.
“On the final day of George Floyd’s homecoming, please join me in a ‘moment of silence’ lasting 8 minutes 46 seconds,” Crump said on Twitter. “Let’s remember George and all of our other lost Black men and women — and pray for their families in this difficult time.”
Contributing: Chuck Lindell, Austin American Statesman; Rick Jervis, USA TODAY