'We can’t let this go': Calls for justice, changes as George Floyd honored in Minneapolis

Two people embrace.
Shareeduh Tate, cousin of George Floyd, and Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, embrace each other during a memorial service at North Central University on Thursday in Minneapolis. Memorial services will also be held in North Carolina and Texas.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

George Floyd’s body is headed for Raeford, N.C., for the second in a series of memorials before his burial.

But before he left Minnesota a final time, Floyd was honored by hundreds of family, friends, elected officials, celebrities and civil rights activists at a Minneapolis chapel on Thursday. 

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

"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 Rev. Al Sharpton gave Floyd’s eulogy in the ceremony at North Central University, saying what happened to Floyd is symbolic of the long oppression of African Americans.

“We could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck,” he said. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks.’”

Other speakers, including Floyd’s family’s attorney, Ben Crump, demanded justice in his killing. 

“What we saw on that video was torture,” said Crump. “What we saw on that video was evil. So, America, we proclaim as we memorialize George Floyd, do not cooperate with evil. Protest against evil.”

As the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s killing last week sat in jail, Crump said that justice means going beyond their prosecution. 

“We seek a broader, more transformative justice. A more just treatment of people of color. A more just criminal justice system,” he said. “Make the Constitution real for all Americans.”

The mourners included Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rev. Jesse Jackson, activist Martin Luther King III, comedian Kevin Hart and entertainers and activists Ludacris, T.I. and Master P.

Floyd, 46, was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, spawning protests that have lasted across the nation ever since. All four officers involved were fired. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, has been charged with second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers — Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng — were charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Floyd’s memorial to retrace his life in NC, Houston

During the memorial service on Thursday, Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, remembered playing video games and football with George growing up.

“We did a lot of things together,” he said. “Dancing with my mom, cooking with my mom. We made banana mayonnaise sandwiches together.” When the crowd laughed a little, he added, “It was a family thing.”

Like Philonise did, Floyd’s memorial services will also look back at his life. 

After Minneapolis, his body will go to Raeford, N.C., where he was born 46 years ago, for a public viewing and private service for family on Saturday. And on Monday, there will be a public viewing in Houston, from where he left for Minneapolis in 2014, searching for a job and a new life. There will be a 500-person service Tuesday in Houston at The Fountain of Praise church. A private burial will follow.

Sharpton will also speak at the Houston service. 

At the Minneapolis memorial, the reverend asked the mourners present and people watching around the world to stand for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Floyd was seen on video laying on the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on his neck.

“As you go through these long eight minutes, think about what George was going through,” Sharpton said. “We can’t let this go. We can’t keep living like this.”

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