George Floyd's family say final goodbyes as funeral hears impassioned calls for racial justice

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  • June 9, 2020
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The funeral of George Floyd, an African American man whose death at the hands of a white police officer sparked global outrage, heard impassioned calls for racial justice.

Mr Floyd was memorialised in his hometown of Houston, Texas, with 2,500 people attending a service to remember him before he was laid to rest next to his mother.

Joe Biden, the Democrat’s presidential nominee, gave a video address during the funeral in which he said “now is the time for racial justice”.

The service followed two weeks of protests ignited by graphic video footage of Mr Floyd, 46, handcuffed and lying face down on a Minneapolis street while an officer kneels into the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes. The distressing video showed Mr Floyd gasping for air as he cried out for his mother and groans, “please, I can’t breathe,” before falling silent and still.

Joe Biden addresses George Floyd funeral

The officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, has since been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers with aiding and abetting Mr Floyd’s May 25 death.

“I can breathe. And as long as I’m breathing, justice will be served,” Mr Floyd’s niece Brooke Williams declared in a eulogy that drew applause from mourners inside the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston. “This is not just a murder but a hate crime.”

The casket of George Floyd is carried by a white horse-drawn carriage to his final resting place at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in Pearland, Texas (AFP via Getty Images)

His niece was one of several relatives and friends, most dressed all in white, who addressed the service, remembering Mr Floyd as a loving, larger-than-life personality at the memorial which was punctuated by gospel music and a video montage of shared memories of the man affectionately known as “Big Floyd.”

His younger brother, Terrence Floyd, spoke about awakening in the middle of the night in recent days traumatised by the memory of seeing his older sibling calling out for their mother as he lay dying. Another brother, Philonise, sobbing in grief, told mourners: “George was my personal superman.”

Family members and United States Representatives give emotional tributes to George Floyd

Following the memorial service, Mr Floyd’s casket made its way to his final resting place in Houston, where he grew up. Many people waited outside of the Fountain of Praise church, where the service was held, in order to see his casket and accompany it to his cemetery plot.

He was to be buried next to his mother.

Taking the stage to deliver the main eulogy, the Reverend Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist and television commentator, called Mr Floyd “an ordinary brother” who left behind a legacy of greatness.

George Floyd protesters ‘take the knee’

“God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that is going to change the whole wide world,” Rev Sharpton said.

He added that the Floyd family would lead a march on Washington being organised for August 28 to mark the 57th anniversary of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, who was assassinated in 1968.

Some 2,500 people attended the funeral, which followed memorial services last week in Minneapolis, where Mr Floyd made his home after leaving Houston, and Raeford, the North Carolina town where he was born. More than 6,000 people filed past Floyd’s open casket on Tuesday as he lay in repose inside the church.

American flags lined the streets outside the church. Flowers and bouquets were placed around a photograph of Mr Floyd.

Former Vice President Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate in the November 3 election, addressed the service via a video recording, lamenting that “too many black Americans wake up knowing that they could lose their life in the course of just living their life.”

“We must not turn away. We cannot leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away from racism,” he said. Two voter registration tables were set up outside the church.

Among those in attendance were loved ones of several other black men killed by white police officers or white civilians.

The mother of Eric Garner, the New York man who died in a police chokehold in 2014, was present, as was the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Georgia man who was shot and killed in February while jogging. Three white men were charged over his death.

Activists commemorate George Floyd’s life in London gathering

But it was the chillingly graphic video rendering of Mr Floyd’s death that triggered an outpouring of rage like no other such killing in recent memory, reinvigorating the Black Lives Matter movement and thrusting demands for racial justice to the top of the political agenda in the US and around the world.

Fallout from Mr Floyd’s death, and reaction to a spate of arson and looting that accompanied some of the otherwise mostly peaceful protests, also plunged President Donald Trump into one of the biggest crises of his tenure.

A Republican, Trump repeatedly threatened to order the military onto the streets to quell protests, focusing on restoring order while saying little about the US racial wounds at the root of the upheavals.

In his eulogy, Rev Sharpton criticised President Trump for his silence on the issues behind police violence.

He said: “How are you going to scare a bad cop if bad cops don’t go to jail? Who taught these cops that they can do this to George?

“When they have the highest level of government that excuses it. When some kids wrongly start violence that this family don’t condone and none of us do, the president talks about bringing in the military. But he has not said one word of 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police murder against George Floyd.”