George Floyd mourned, celebrated as death used as call to action in Minneapolis service

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Thursday, June 4, 2020
Family remembers George Floyd at Minneapolis funeral service
Family members remembered George Floyd at a funeral service in Minneapolis on Thursday, June 4.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The mural of George Floyd projected above his golden coffin, where mourners knelt and cried, paused and prayed at his memorial service Thursday had a simple message: "I can breathe now."

Celebrities, civil rights activists, politicians and family members of Floyd sang "Amazing Grace," prayed and joined together in a rousing memorial that was both a celebration of his life and a mourning of a man whose death at the hands of police has sparked protests nationwide and calls for an end to racial injustice.

Mourners wore masks, some with the words "I can't breathe" on them, some of the last words Floyd said on the streets of Minneapolis just 3 miles (5 kilometers) from where the service was held at the Frank J. Lindquist sanctuary at North Central University. Some in attendance bumped elbows, rather than hug or shake hands, at the memorial taking place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was not the coronavirus that killed Floyd, the family's attorney Ben Crump said, but the "pandemic of racism and discrimination."

Floyd's brother and other family members told personal stories about dancing, playing football, cooking and enjoying life together. They said he was known by the endearing nickname "Big George."

Roxie Washington, the mother of George Floyd's daughter, remembered him as "a good man" during an emotional press conference, sharing a story about the birth of Floyd's daughter and lamenting the fact that she will grow up without her father.

"George, he was like a general," brother Philonise Floyd said. "Every day he would walk outside there would be a line of people wanting to greet him. ... He was powerful, man. He had a way with words. ... Everybody loved George."

It was as the first service planned over the next six days across three communities where Floyd was born, grew up and died.

Projected above the pulpit inside the sanctuary was the blue and orange mural that's been painted at the site of a makeshift memorial in the neighborhood where Floyd pleaded for air on May 25 as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man's neck for several minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air.

A small band and choir sang "Goin' Up Yonder" and other classic gospel songs as mourners gathered.

George Floyd's daughter Gianna spoke to ABC's Eva Pilgrim about her dad.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed for several moments over Floyd's golden casket. Others in attendance included Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Reps. Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Ayana Pressley and Joyce Beatty; rappers T.I., with his wife Tiny, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson; comedians Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish; and actress Marsai Martin.

The Rev. Al Sharpton was among those who spoke.

"George Floyd should not be among the deceased," Sharpton said. "He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction. He died because there has not been the corrective behavior that has taught this country that if you commit a crime, it does not matter if you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform you must pay for the crime you commit."

The Rev. Al Sharpton says George Floyd's story has been the story of black people in America, and that he died not from common health conditions, but from a malfunction of the criminal justice system.

After the first service, Floyd's body will go to Raeford, North Carolina, the state where he was born 46 years ago, for a two-hour public viewing and private service for the family on Saturday.

Finally, a public viewing will be held Monday in Houston, where he was raised and lived most of his life. A 500-person service on Tuesday will take place at The Fountain of Praise church and will include addresses from Sharpton, family attorney Ben Crump, and the Rev. Remus E. Wright, the family pastor. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, may attend, and other political figures and celebrities are expected as well. A private burial will follow.

Floyd's final journey was designed with intention, Sharpton said ahead of Thursday's service. Having left Houston for Minneapolis in 2014 in search of a job and a new life, Floyd will retrace that path.

Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, said the impact of Floyd's death would ultimately be measured by changes in how police treat African Americans and the disparate rates at which black men are incarcerated.

"Otherwise, it'll just be the next George Floyd and the one after that," he said.

Here is what you need to know about the George Floyd memorials:

When and where are services?

The first service took Thursday, June 4, at Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary in Minneapolis, where Floyd resided at the time of his death.

A second memorial service will follow in North Carolina, where Floyd was born 46 years ago. That event will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 6, at Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary in Raeford, outside of Fayetteville. This includes a two-hour public viewing and private services for family.

The third and final service will take place in Houston, where he was raised, at noon ET on Tuesday, June 9, at The Fountain of Praise. A public viewing will take place in Houston the afternoon before.

Who are notable people attending these services?

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton will eulogize Floyd in Minneapolis and Houston.

"It would be inadequate if you did not regard the life and love and celebration the family wants, but it would also be inadequate ... if you acted as though we're at a funeral that happened under natural circumstances."

"The family is not independent of the community," he said. "The family wants to see something happen."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, may attend the Houston services, and other political figures and celebrities are expected as well.

"This is unprecedented"

Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, said that "for a person who was pretty much unknown to the world until just last week, this is unprecedented."

"This has touched a nerve," Carson said. "It's been building up for all of American history. I think that people who are aware of the history of this country understand that there's a lot to atone for and a lot to celebrate in terms of people who stood up for justice."

The size of Floyd's memorial reflects his impact and the need to recognize the widespread grief his death has caused, said Tashel Bordere, an expert on grief and assistant professor at the University of Missouri. It also reflects a tradition particularly in African American communities that large funerals can provide the recognition that a lost loved one struggled to receive in life.

But, she added, "grief goes far beyond the funeral; healing goes far beyond the funeral. Justice is experienced when people feel safe in their communities and in their lives."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.