MINNEAPOLIS — After 10 days of nationwide outcry following the death of George Floyd, hundreds gathered under the summer sun in Minneapolis on Thursday, June 4, to mourn his loss and call for action.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from St. Louis Park, died May 25 in south Minneapolis after former-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd cried out for his mother in his final moments of his life, and said he couldn’t breathe.
Those words — “I can’t breathe” — have become a rallying cry as protesters have taken to the streets to protest Floyd’s death, police brutality and systematic racism. As Floyd’s loved ones walked into North Central University’s Frank Lindquist Sanctuary on Thursday to mourn, several wore black face masks across their mouths — a staple amid the coronavirus pandemic — with the words “I can’t breathe” written across.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, said he and George — who loved ones called Perry — “did a lot of things together.” He reminisced playing video games in their childhood home in Houston, or playing with their neighborhood friends who loved their mother’s cooking. Everyone felt accepted and loved in their home, he said, and left with a full belly.
Philonise Floyd said no matter who he was talking to, his brother “made (them) feel like the president.”
Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, said she will miss his hugs the most. Standing at 6-foot-4, George — nicknamed “Big Floyd” — enveloped you in his embraces, she said.
Hundreds of mourners bowed their heads as civil rights activist Al Sharpton delivered Floyd’s eulogy. He said in the wake of Floyd’s death, even amid the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand justice — a sign that now is the “time and the season for change.”
Decrying systematic racism, Sharpton said Floyd’s story “is the story of black folks.”
“We could never be who we wanted to be because you had your knee on our necks. We couldn’t breathe, not because we have bad lungs,” Sharpton continued, “but because you wouldn’t take your knees off our necks.”
As some protests around the country have grown violent, Sharpton said Floyd's family does not condone violence. But "there is a difference between those who are calling for peace and those who are calling for quiet," he said.
"Some of you just want us to suffer in silence," he said.
At the end of the memorial, loved ones inside and mourners outside bowed their heads in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds -- the amount of time that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck before he became unresponsive. As Floyd's red rose-covered casket was loaded into the hearse, the crowd outside began chanting: "Say his name! George Floyd!"
Less than three miles down Chicago Ave., a different memorial has grown larger in size every day since Floyd died. Piles of flowers for Floyd have multiplied and grown higher, messages painted in rainbow colors splatter across the black top and tables have sprouted up around the block with donated groceries for the community. At the wall of Cup Foods, where artists just days ago began painting a mural of Floyd, visitors take pictures in front of the now completed mural, many with signs of protest in their hands. The community at the corner of 38th and Chicago in less than two weeks has mourned, protested and celebrated together, and multiplied in size until it stretched beyond the block on Thursday.
Chauvin, as well as three other officers present at the scene, were all fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Two autopsies have ruled Floyd's death a homicide, and Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers present, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng, have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Thursday's was the first of three memorials to be held for Floyd. The second is Saturday in Raeford, N.C. A public viewing will be held Monday in Floyd's hometown of Houston, followed by a memorial on Tuesday, also in Houston.