Hundreds of mourners packed a Houston church Tuesday for the funeral of George Floyd, capping six days of mourning for the black man whose death has led to a global reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice.
Floyd, 46, was to be laid to rest next to his mother in the suburb of Pearland. He called out for her as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck May 25. Cellphone video of the encounter ignited protests and scattered violence in cities across the United States and around the world.
While the service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside the Fountain of Praise church to pay their respects. Some held signs with messages including “Black Lives Matter” and “Together because of George Floyd.”
“There’s a real big change going on and everybody, especially black, right now should be a part of that,” said Kersey Biagase, who traveled more than three hours from Port Barre, Louisiana, with his girlfriend, Brandi Pickney.
The couple wore matching T-shirts she designed, printed with Floyd’s name and “I Can’t Breathe,” the words he uttered before his death.
Several police officers from Texas Southern University stood guard at the sanctuary entrance, wearing face masks printed with Floyd’s dying words. The historically black school is next to the Houston housing project where Floyd grew up.
Mourners including Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both Democrats from the Houston area, and the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, filed in. Nearly all the pews were full, with relatively little space between people.
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“So much for social distancing today,” the Rev. Remus Wright told mourners, gently but firmly instructing those attending to don face masks because of the coronavirus.
Many people fanned themselves with paper fans bearing an image of Floyd.
Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, were led into the sanctuary by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. They were joined by rapper Trae tha Truth, who helped organize a march last week in Houston attended by 60,000 people.
Floyd “often spoke about being world famous one day and he has managed to make that happen in his death,” the funeral program said.
The funeral came a day after about 6,000 people attended a public memorial, also in Houston, waiting for hours under a baking sun to pay their respects to Floyd, whose body lay in an open gold-colored casket.
Floyd's death sparked international protests and drew new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system. In the past two weeks, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place: confederate statues have been toppled, police departments around America have rethought the way they patrol minority neighborhoods, legislatures have debated use-of-force policies, and white, black and brown people have had uncomfortable, sometimes heated, discussions about race in a country that is supposed to ensure equal opportunity for all.
Calls for “defunding the police” have cropped up in many communities, and people around the world took to the streets in solidarity, saying that reforms and dialogue must not stop with Floyd's funeral.
His death has also reshaped the presidential race. President Donald Trump is hoping to rebound from one of the lowest points of his presidency as recent polls show that 8 in 10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and even spiraling out of control. The president got a boost late last week with a better-than-expected jobs report, but he’s struggling to show consistent leadership on several issues, including the nationwide protests against police brutality.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden met with Floyd’s family Monday, according to a photo posted on Twitter by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Biden will provide a video message for Floyd’s funeral service. Previous memorials have taken place in Minneapolis and Raeford, North Carolina, near where Floyd was born.
The memorial service drew the families of black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared in America’s conversation over race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
“It just hurts,” said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside The Fountain of Praise church. “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.”
For 14 nights, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country, according to reports tracked by The Associated Press.
But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics. Thousands of Los Angeles protesters arrested for violating curfew and other police orders will not be charged with a crime, prosecutors said Monday.
Four Minneapolis officers were charged in connection with Floyd's death, which was captured on video by bystanders, who begged police to stop hurting him.
A Minnesota judge on Monday kept bail at $1.25 million for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s former co-workers, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are charged as accomplices.
The 44-year-old Chauvin said almost nothing during the 11-minute hearing while appearing on closed-circuit television from a maximum-security prison.