Floyd, whose death sparked massive anti-racism protests around the world, was remembered as a fun-loving friend, mentor and avid sports fan.
HOUSTON (CN) — A horse-drawn carriage led the golden casket of 46-year-old Houston native George Floyd to his final resting place Tuesday afternoon as thousands of mourners paid final respects to a man whose last words, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and catalyst for police reforms nationwide.
An estimated 500 mourners joined Floyd’s family and friends, many of them wearing white, inside the Fountain of Praise church in Houston for the funeral service, dedicated as a “homegoing celebration.” They included political leaders, civil rights and pop culture icons, as well as family members of other slain African Americans including Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Botham Jean and Ahmaud Arbery.
“I am so grateful today to be able to say a man by the name of Big Floyd walked amongst us and began to mentor and make a legacy that no one can deny,” Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee told mourners, making reference to Floyd’s nickname.
At the Tuesday morning service, family members eulogized Floyd as a fun-loving friend, mentor and avid sports fan who was “spiritually grounded,” including his aunt, Kathleen McGee, a niece and his brothers, one of which called him his “own personal superman.”
“The world knows George Floyd. I know Perry Jr.” McGee said. “He was a pesky little rascal, but we loved him,” she said with a chuckle.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who proclaimed June 9 “George Perry Floyd Day” during his remarks, said he would sign an executive order ushering in police reforms in the city, including banning chokeholds and requiring officers to engage in de-escalation techniques, among other changes.
The more than three-hour service also featured moving musical tributes to Floyd, including a montage of images of Floyd alongside images of marchers protesting his death, and a rendition of the 1964 Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come” sung by Dray Tate, which showcased an artist painting a portrait of Floyd on a large canvas on stage.
Floyd’s May 25 death while in the custody of Minneapolis police has sparked massive protests against police brutality in over 140 American cities and across the world. Derek Chauvin, 44, who is seen in a now-viral video of the arrest with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, faces second-degree murder charges — which in Minnesota carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane, officers who assisted Chauvin in Floyd’s detainment, face aiding and abetting murder charges.
Survived by a son, a 6-year-old daughter and a grandchild, Floyd, who was born in North Carolina, became the first of his five siblings to graduate from high school in 1993. He went on to attend South Florida Community College as a basketball recruit, but left the school in 1995 for a short stint at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, before returning back to Houston.
Floyd arrived in Minnesota in 2017 to seek drug addiction treatment at a center in Minneapolis and found work as a bouncer at a restaurant-nightclub, a job he reportedly lost after the restaurant closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But it will be his final moments of life that transformed him from an ordinary man into a worldwide symbol of change. Posters depicting Floyd with the words “I can’t breathe” along his mouth were displayed on fences along the funeral procession route, where red and yellow ribbons, the colors of his high school alma mater, were wrapped around light poles and thousands of onlookers paused to pay respects.
“It’s unfortunate for someone to lose their life for a change to come but it’s definitely been on its way,” said Houston resident Mike McDonald, who waited along a Pearland street about 20 miles from the church for Floyd’s procession to pass.
The Reverend Al Sharpton, the final speaker to deliver a eulogy to Floyd, said the movement sparked by Floyd’s death won’t rest “until we get justice, until we have one standard of justice.”
“Your family is going to miss you, George, but your nation is going to always remember your name because your neck was one that represented all of us, and how you suffered represented our suffer,” Sharpton said.
After the funeral service, Floyd’s casket was carried by car to Pearland before being transferred into a white horse-drawn carriage for the final mile to the cemetery, where six pallbearers and a line of Pearland police officers led the procession and thousands of mourners lined the route, many also walking it.
Floyd was laid to rest beside his mother in a private burial ceremony.