MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Politicians, civil rights legends and celebrities joined family members Thursday to mourn George Floyd in ways rousing and uplifting, and for one long, poignant moment, silent.
The private memorial for Floyd, whose death after being pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police ignited a global cry of outrage and grief, was held in the sanctuary on the downtown Minneapolis campus of North Central University.
In spirited ebbs and flows, the Rev. Al Sharpton eulogized Floyd while at the same time calling for social change for black Americans and others who feel oppression in this country.
But Sharpton closed his eulogy in a quiet and symbolic way, directing those in attendance to stand in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time representing how long an officer used his knee to pin Floyd by the neck last week as he pleaded “I can’t breathe” until falling motionless.
After the final second passed, Sharpton said, “That’s how long he was laying there.”
Turning his attention to the officers who held Floyd down, he added, “They had enough time.”
Speaking in the sanctuary with Floyd’s gold casket before him, Sharpton said, “Go home. Get your rest, George. You changed the world, George.”
Outside the mood swung from quiet anticipation before the service began to one of solidarity as it ended. Hundreds chanted “Say his name, George Floyd!” and “No justice, no peace” for several minutes after the 92-minute service was over. They held their fists up together in solidarity, then the crowd gradually dispersed.
Sharpton said it’s not time to “sit here and act like we had a funeral on the schedule. George Floyd should not be among the deceased. He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction.
“He died because there has not been the corrective behavior that has taught this country that if you commit a crime, it does not matter whether you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform, you must pay for the crime you commit.”
Sharpton, alluding to the police maneuver used to pin Floyd to the pavement, said, “Get your knee off our necks.” Speaking to the largely masked, largely black crowd, he continued: “We don’t need no favors, just get off of us and we can do and be whatever we can be.”
Philonise Floyd, the first of Floyd’s relatives to speak, recalled growing up with his brother not having much, but being happy playing video games, football, and cooking and dancing with their mother. Those who knew him best called him Perry.
“Everywhere you go, you see people how they cling to him,” the brother said. “They wanted to be around him. … George, he was like a general. He walks outside and everyone wanted to greet him, wanted to have fun with him. Guys doing drugs and smokers, you couldn’t tell, because when you spoke with George, you felt like you was the president.”
North Central University President Scott Hagan drew loud applause when he announced that the Christian school would start a scholarship in Floyd’s name dedicated to inspiring young black leaders. Hagan challenged other colleges to do the same, to rousing applause.
In attendance were Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who fired the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, along with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Also in attendance were actor Kevin Hart and rappers Master P and Ludacris, along with several members of the Minnesota Vikings and NBA standout Stephen Jackson, one of Floyd’s closest friends.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Alexander Mattison organized the team’s contingent that was joined by Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck.
“I felt like it was important,” Rudolph said of their presence. “This is our community. This is our home. I stand for what’s right and I’m against what’s wrong.”
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., also in attendance, said that while the service in the sanctuary had at times the feel of a funeral, it was clear that it was much more than that.
“There was a shared sense of community in (the sanctuary) and in the street about using this moment to finally commit to taking action to address these systemic injustices,” Smith said. “You can feel that solidarity.”
Matt Allen, 29, of St. Paul, agreed. “This memorial service is a way to say goodbye and honor a life, but it also stands as a public marking point to say ‘never again,’” said Allen, who was outside the service with a group of volunteers offering first aid and hand sanitizer. “It was important to me to be here and engage in that collective voice.”
Maudeline St. Jean and her sons Luke, 13, and Zachary, 15, came from Burnsville to show support for Floyd’s family and the struggle. “Things can change. There’s hope that change can come,” said St. Jean, who is black. Although she wonders, “Will it be slow or fast?”
Although the boys were wary of coming, because of the violence surrounding many of the protests, St. Jean reassured them. “You don’t have to be scared or worried. This is about showing support.”
By the end of the service, Zachary was standing, holding his sign aloft.
Outside, tucked under conifers at Elliot Park, kitty-corner from the Trask Worship Center, homeless men huddled in tents, some covered in tarps, while throngs of cameras from national and international media stood on tripods.
Across the park, near a wading pool void of water, volunteers largely from the service industry set up tables to distribute free meals before the service. Organizer and local chef Christopher Martin flipped hamburgers on propane and wood grills with another volunteer.
“I just wanted to cook for some people,” Martin said. “I don’t have a lot of money but thought maybe people would donate.”
Donations, including large ones from Nicollet Diner and USI Fiber, he said, allowed him to start grilling enough burgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers to feed about 2,500 people during the service.
“White people coming here, feeling sad — what happens when all those white people go back to their jobs in the suburbs?” said Jennifer Schnarr of Burnsville, who is white and was outside the memorial venue. “People need to get out there every day.”
The Minneapolis service is the first of three this week to memorialize Floyd. Another memorial is scheduled for Saturday in Raeford, N.C., where the 46-year-old Floyd was born. On Tuesday, a funeral will be held in Houston, where he lived much of his life until moving to the Twin Cities about five years ago. A private burial will follow that service.
Star Tribune staff writers John Reinan, Mara Klecker, Rochelle Olson and Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.
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