MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Community members, relatives and black dignitaries attended a memorial service Thursday for George Floyd on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, with mourners spread across two city blocks shouting protest chants, listening to a sermon from the Reverend Al Sharpton and clamoring for a look at visiting celebrities.
Sharpton didn’t hold back on his trademark vigor in the sermon.
“Nobody calls me to keep a secret,” he said early on. “People call me to blow up issues.”
Floyd’s May 25 death after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds sparked an uprising of protests and riots in Minneapolis and later across the world over the past week and a half.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday brought an upgraded second-degree murder charge against Chauvin, along with aiding-and-abetting charges for the three officers who looked on and held Floyd down or kept bystanders away while Chauvin knelt on him.
“George Floyd should not be among the deceased,” Sharpton said at the memorial service. “He didn’t die of critical heart conditions. He died of a common American justice malfunction.”
“It’s time for us to stand up, and shout his name, and say ‘Get your knee off my neck,’” he added, introducing a major motif of his eulogy.
Sharpton said “time is out” for empty promises and excuses in the justice system.
“Go home, George. Get your rest, George. You changed the world, George,” he added, emphasizing the need for black Americans to continue to push for racial justice.
Floyd’s family was joined by black celebrities and political figures from the Twin Cities and around the country. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Ayana Pressley, attended the service, alongside director Tyler Perry, actors Kevin Hart, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish, rapper T.I., singer Tyrese Gibson and Martin Luther King III.
Also present were civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and a variety of Minnesota Democratic officials, including U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Governor Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
International media crowded barricades in front of the Trask Worship Center at North Central University, an Assemblies of God-affiliated university in the city’s Elliot Park neighborhood. Early in the service, the Reverend Scott Hagan, president of the university, addressed attendees and the crowd gathered outside to announce the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, which he said will go toward the success of black students.
“I am now challenging every university president in the United States of America to establish your own,” he said, before leading the crowd through a prayer in which he cited Proverbs 31: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
The service also included reminiscences from Floyd’s family, who remembered him as a comforting, charismatic and encouraging presence through a joyful but impoverished upbringing by a single mother in Houston.
“He was powerful, man. He had a way with words,” Floyd’s brother, Philonese Floyd, said. “Everybody loved George. We followed George.”
“Everybody asking for justice for George – he’s gonna get it. He’s gonna get it,” Floyd’s brother concluded.
On the sidelines among the thousands gathered outside, Jerry Woods handed out straps to hold up onlookers’ face masks, featuring slogans like “I Can’t Breathe” and “Stay Strong.” Beyond saving mask wearers’ ears, Woods said, he saw the straps, which a co-worker had given him, as his way to help.
Woods – a former defensive back for the Green Bay Packers – says he has watched the videos of Floyd’s death, the riots that followed and the police response to those riots.
“I wanted to come down here to memorialize him,” he said, “see that his life wasn’t taken in vain, and to try to be part of the solution.”
As mourners exited the sanctuary, followed by Floyd’s gold casket, a crowd assembled on a nearby street raised their fists and chanted. Some family members encouraged them, giving the cry that has marked protests in Minneapolis since Floyd’s death: “Say his name!” “George Floyd!”