The attorney for George Floyd’s family, Ben Crump, said the “pandemic of racism” was responsible for Floyd’s death last week at the hands of police.
“It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd,” Crump said Thursday at Floyd’s memorial, held at a sanctuary at North Central University in Minneapolis. “I want to make it clear, on the record. It was that other pandemic that we’re far too familiar with in America — the pandemic of racism and discrimination — that killed George Floyd.”
“What we saw on that video was torture … was inhumane ... was evil,” he added, referencing the viral video that showed Floyd, who was Black, pinned face-down by a white Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death spurred massive protests around the nation and the world against systemic racism and police brutality.
“Protest against evil. Join the young people in the streets,” Crump demanded, calling for a “more just system of policing” and a “more just treatment of people of color.”
“George Floyd deserved better than that, we all deserve better than that.”
Crump named other Black victims of police violence, including Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Sandra Bland, and more.
At the memorial, attendees donned masks in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and some wore sweatshirts inscribed with “Justice for George Floyd.” A large illustration of Floyd hung above the podium with the words “Say our names” and “I can breathe now.”
Several high-profile figures attended the memorial, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy.
As Sharpton began his remarks, he addressed the officers involved in Floyd’s death.
“It does not matter whether you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform — you must pay for the crime you commit,” he said. Sharpton also used his time at the podium to denounce President Donald Trump for using Floyd’s death as a “prop,” much like the Bible the president held up in front of St. John’s Church in Washington this week after law enforcement tear-gassed protesters nearby.
Sharpton said Floyd’s story “has been the story of Black folks,” noting that the 46-year-old’s death reminded him of the killing of Eric Garner, who died after New York City police held him in a chokehold in 2014.
“The reason we couldn’t be who we wanted … is you kept your knee on our neck,” Sharpton said. “We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck.”
“What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country,” Sharpton added. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say: ‘Get your knee off our necks.’”
But Sharpton also saw reason for hope, pointing to the diversity of recent protests as proof that “it’s a different time and a different season.”
Sharpton and the Floyd family will reportedly hold a march on Washington in August calling for federal policing reform, according to reporter Wesley Lowery.
In his remarks, Philonise Floyd recalled growing up poor with his brother, sharing a bed and playing catch with a football before coming home to spend time with their mother.
“We were making banana-mayonnaise sandwiches together! It was a family thing,” he said, recalling how the siblings used to wash their undergarments by hand before the first day of school and dry them on the hot water heater or in the oven.
“I love my brother, man,” he added, noting that people nicknamed his sibling “Big Georgia and Big Floyd.” “It’s amazing to me how he’s touched so many people’s hearts. Everybody wants justice — we want justice for George — he’s gonna get it.”
Eulogies from members of the Floyd family followed a common theme: They didn’t have a lot growing up, but they had each other, describing a family that was close, warm and welcoming.
At the start of the service, Scott Hagan, president of North Central University, announced a new scholarship in Floyd’s name for “the educational promise of aspiring young Black American leaders,” and challenged other universities to establish their own scholarships in Floyd’s honor.
On Thursday, hundreds also gathered for a large rally and memorial in Brooklyn, New York, to commemorate Floyd’s life.
Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, was charged with third-degree murder last week after four days of protests calling for charges. On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison elevated the charge to second-degree murder and charged the three other officers involved with aiding and abetting.
Those gathered at the memorial stood in silence at the end for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time the cop held Floyd to the ground.
“You changed the world, George,” Sharpton said Thursday. “We’re gonna keep fighting, George.”