NEW YOK, Jun 05 (APP):Hundreds of people joined a moving memorial service in Minneapolis Thursday to salute and grieve George Floyd, an African-American man whose death in police custody was captured on a video that horrified much of America and precipitated widespread protests.
The memorial, which was covered live, featured a moment of silence that lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a white policeman pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as he lay on the ground handcuffed on May 25, gasping that he could not breathe and calling for his mother before dying.
In a powerful eulogy, civil rights leader Al Sharpton called Floyd’s death emblematic of oppression black people have faced since the country’s founding.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks,” he said. “Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck. It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks.’”
Sharpton also said he was organizing a rally in Washington, the nation’s capital, the site of continuing demonstrations across the White House – scheduled for Aug. 28, the 57th anniversary of the historic March On Washington.
The four police officers linked to Floyd’s arrest and killing were dismissed from the force and charged with crimes, the most serious being second-degree murder. Citing precedent in similar cases, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Muslim, has said convicting them will be a tough task.
At the funeral, George Floyd’s family wept openly and wiped their eyes as people raised their arms in the air.
In his eulogy packed with passion, anger and the promise of hope, while criticizing President Donald Trump, Sharpton said the knee pressing down on Floyd’s neck was the story of black Americans for generations.
“The reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck,” he said. “We could do whatever anyone else could do. But we couldn’t get your knee off our neck … What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country in education and health services and in every area of American life. It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks.”
Amid the fury of Sharpton’s demands and the heart-rending glimpses into Floyd’s life offered by his family, it was the nearly nine minutes of standing in silence that tested the mourners.
Each second dragging by served as a reminder to stunned relatives and friends of what seemed a near eternity that a police officer’s knee pressed down on Floyd’s neck, squeezing the life out of him. Sharpton had warned the family and other mourners at the first of three memorial services how difficult these eight minutes and 46 seconds were going to be.
“As you go through these long eight minutes, think about what George was going through, laying there for those eight minutes, begging for his own life …”
“We can’t let this go. We can’t keep living like this,” he said.
Other mourners at North Central University in Minneapolis, where the memorial was held, stared up at a brightly lit replica of the mural of Floyd painted on a wall at the site of his death and hanging behind his golden coffin. Each passing second also served as a reminder of how long the other police officers had to intervene as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe and then cried out for his mother.
Since Floyd was killed by police on May 25, crowds have gathered day and night in Minneapolis for huge protests – marred by bouts of violent unrest and looting – and to pay tribute at the site where Floyd was pinned to the street during an arrest attempt.
North Central University announced a George Floyd scholarship for young black Americans and called for other universities to do likewise.
Civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King III, a son of the illustrious leader, and Jesse Jackson, the actor Kevin Hart, and Minnesota’s leading politicians including US senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith participated in the funeral.
As Sharpton spoke, the tears gave way to roars of approval. The mourners let go of each other to rise to their feet and cheer Sharpton on. Then he came to Trump and his photo-op with a bible at a church close to the White House this week.
“Held the bible in his hand. I’ve been preaching since I was a little boy. I never seen anyone hold a bible like that,” Sharpton quipped.
“First of all, we cannot use bibles as a prop. And for those of you who have agendas that are not about justice, his family will not let you use George as a prop.”
But Sharpton also said he was “more hopeful today than ever”.
“When I looked this time and saw marchers were in some cases young whites outnumbering the black marchers, I know that it is a different time and a different season. When I looked and saw people in Germany marching for George Floyd, it’s a different time and different season. When they went in front of the parliament in London, England, and said it’s a different time and a different season, I come to tell you, America this is the time of building accountability in the criminal justice system.”
Sharpton said he remembered going to a march years ago and being confronted by a white woman who looked him in the face and said: “Nigger, go home”. This week he came face to face with a young white girl.
“I braced myself and she looked at me and said: “No justice, no peace,” Sharpton recalled to the approval of the mourners. “This is the time. We won’t stop. We’ll keep going until we change the whole system of justice.”
Protesters also gathered outside the courthouse where the three officers, charged with aiding and abetting the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, made their first court appearance around the same time.
The three officers, Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were fired last week and charged earlier this week after the state took over the case from the county prosecutor. Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, and who was also fired, was charged with third-degree murder last week and had the charge upgraded to second-degree murder on Wednesday by the Minnesota attorney general.
Thousands of people who had joined protests over the past week to demand justice for Floyd were asked to keep away from the service, amid concerns about social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the start of Thursday’s official memorial event, Floyd’s body lay in a golden casket surrounded by white flowers. His portrait was to one side, and a brightly lit street mural dominated the back of the auditorium at North Central University, behind the choir and band.
Floyd’s son, brother and sister were among those attending.