MINNEAPOLIS — 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 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, located about 3 miles north of the intersection where the unarmed and handcuffed man was arrested on Memorial Day.
In spirited ebbs and flows of emotion and message, the Rev. Al Sharpton eulogized Floyd while at the same time calling for social change for African Americans and others who feel oppression in this country.
But as boisterous as his eulogy was, Sharpton closed in a most quiet and symbolic way, directing those in attendance to stand in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a length of time representing how long one 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 Floyd’s gold casket before him, draped in roses, Sharpton said, “Go home. Get your rest, George. You changed the world, George.”
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 then turned to President Donald Trump, who held a Bible this week in front of a house of worship in the nation’s capital.
“First of all, we cannot use Bibles as a prop,” he said, “and for those that have agendas that are not about justice, this family will not let you use George as a prop.”
Sharpton, alluding to the police maneuver used to pin Floyd to the pavement for about eight minutes, even as he lay silent and motionless.
“Get your knee off our necks,” he said, drawing an analogy with Floyd’s apprehension with the modern African American struggle in the United States. “We don’t need no favors, just get off of us and we can do and be whatever we can be.”
The first of Floyd’s relatives to speak, Philonise Floyd, 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 George Floyd 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.”
Early on in the service, 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.
Also entering with the family was Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, in his dress blues with four stars on his shoulders. The chief fired the four officers charged in Floyd’s death.
Outside there was a mood of quiet anticipation. No chanting, shouting or singing, unlike so many public gatherings since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and communities across the nation. Moments later, gospel music boom from loudspeakers to the mourners left outside.
Floyd’s body arrived earlier Thursday morning in a hearse from a north Minneapolis funeral home.
Attendees lowered the masks and had their temperature taken upon entry, a stark reminder that the service is being held amid the COVID-19 epidemic. Seats were marked with names of attendees, with empty spots in accordance with social distancing requirements, but many there sat shoulder to shoulder.
In attendance were Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey among other Minnesota politicians, along with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minneapolis, was also there, as are several members of the Vikings. Floyd counted former NBA standout Stephen Jackson among his closest friends. He also was there, along with actor Kevin Hart and rappers Master P and Ludacris.
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.”
Star Tribune staff writers John Reinan, Mara Klecker, Rochelle Olson and Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.