'This is part of their history': Song, sorrow envelop Minneapolis park during Floyd memorial

Woman wipes away tears as she cries.
Aneesha Kelly of St. Paul wipes away tears Thursday while listening to the memorial service for George Floyd as it is broadcast over Elliot Park in Minneapolis.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Elliot Park sits just across the street from the sanctuary where George Floyd’s family and their guests celebrated his life Thursday afternoon.

It was his death, under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, that drew Beverly Trotter there.

"I'm here today with my friends, my sisters, my grandchildren,” she said, ”because this is part of their history."

She was among a few hundred people who had gathered to listen to George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis. The sounds of song and sorrow poured across the park through speakers placed outside the North Central University chapel.

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Trotter said she's never attended a protest before now. But something about Floyd’s killing moved her like nothing else has. No mother of black sons, she said, should ever experience what the Floyd family has.

"When I say I raised my sons,” she said, pounding her fist into the palm of her hand, “my sons didn't just grow up. I raised them. I instilled values and morals and purpose in their lives. No one has the right to take that."

Denise Jones sat on a park bench next to Trotter. She, too, had never protested police violence before.

But Jones said it's important for people to demonstrate in numbers — and loudly — in order to bring about lasting change.

She hopes one day — maybe not tomorrow — black mothers will not have to coach their children about how they should act around police officers.

"We should not have to teach our sons how to be submissive when it comes to the police. We should not have to say, 'Don't look them in the eye. Don't irritate them. Don't agitate them.' You know? It's like no!” she said. “Police are supposed to be our friend."

Trotter, Jones and their friends brought sandwiches and refreshments to hand out in the park. A couple men stop by their wooden picnic table and accepted some of the food they were offering. It felt at times like a church picnic.

Nearby, Linda Sweet remembered her family’s experience living in White Bear Lake in the 1970s. The white neighbors didn't accept them at first, she said. Some threw eggs at their house.

Change is coming, she said, but it's going to require divine intervention.

"I pray for this whole state. I pray for the whole world,” said Sweet, a Christian evangelist and a pastor's widow. “We have got to come together at some time. We've got to understand, we have come from a hardship. They took us off our land — where we were free. And we came here, and our ancestors made the way, and now we're going to finish the way."

The service included eulogies by two of Floyd’s brothers and a cousin. They called him a mentor and a role model and marveled at his giant hugs and his appetite to match. The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, rallied the crowd to justice before introducing civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"I've come to tell you, America,” Sharpton said, “this is the time of dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system."

As she listened to Sharpton deliver his eulogy, Wanda Felder sat at a picnic table with her her 9-year-old son. Felder said she hadn't attended a protest or demonstration before — but this moment, she said, is different.

It’s the video, Felder said.

"You cannot watch that video and not react. You cannot watch that video and not want something to be changed. You cannot watch that video and not have it move you into action, whatever that action is for yourself,” she said. “So for me, today, it's being down here."

Felder said she hopes that after the services are over and the protests subside, that that action doesn't lose momentum.

As the service wound down and people filed out of the park, a smaller crowd stayed in front of the university, keeping the name of George Floyd in everyone's ears.