Thousands of mourners lined up at a church in Houston on Monday to pay their respects to George Floyd, the Black man killed by Minneapolis police last month.
At the public viewing, held at the Fountain of Praise church in Floyd’s hometown of Houston, crowds that largely consisted of Black people — all wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — stood in long lines, wearing T-shirts with illustrations of Floyd’s face or emblazoned with the phrases “Black Lives Matter” or “I can’t breathe.” The latter were some of Floyd’s last words as white officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for minutes after Floyd stopped responding.
As they stood before Floyd’s casket, some people took a knee, pressed their hands over their hearts or bowed their heads. Others raised their fists — a move echoed by the throngs of protesters who’ve taken to the streets across the country and the world over the past two weeks to demand justice for Floyd and systemic change to address racism and police violence.
At a news conference at the church Monday afternoon, Rev. Al Sharpton and Ben Crump, the attorney for Floyd’s family, introduced Floyd’s siblings, as well as family members of other Black victims of police violence who spoke, including the mother of Eric Garner and father of Michael Brown.
Philonise Floyd, George’s brother, thanked all the people who came out to honor “Big Floyd.”
“He had his life taken away when he shouldn’t have. He should’ve been here,” Philonise said of his brother George, tearing up as he named other Black people who died at the hands of police, including Breonna Taylor. “We will get justice.”
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner — who was killed by police in New York City in 2014 after an officer held him in chokehold as he repeated “I can’t breathe” — said Floyd’s family was “hurting” and her own “hurt don’t go away.” She urged people not to stop fighting after the media attention wanes.
“The cameras will be gone in a few days. Don’t stop fighting,” Garner’s mother said, adding that people now have to fight both coronavirus and “corruption” among police. “I don’t want to stand here for another brother, another mother crying, because they’ve been killed by the police.”
Monday’s event was one of several in recent days to honor Floyd’s life, including a memorial in Minneapolis last Thursday and another one planned for Tuesday in Houston for Floyd’s friends and family. Attendance at Tuesday’s service is limited to 500 people due to social distancing precautions, according to Floyd family attorney Ben Crump.
On Monday, a judge set bail for Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, at $1.25 million. Following days of protest, his charge was elevated to second-degree murder.
At last Thursday’s memorial, attended by lawmakers and celebrities, Rev. Al Sharpton gave a powerful eulogy on how Floyd’s story “has been the story of Black folks.”
“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.’”