Hundreds of mourners filed into the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston on Tuesday to pay their final respects to George Floyd, a black man whose killing by Minneapolis police sparked protests around the world and calls to end systemic racism in America.
Delivering Floyd’s eulogy, the Rev. Al Sharpton distilled the outrage, mourning and hunger for change felt by the black community in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“If four black cops had done to one white what was done to George, they wouldn’t have to teach new lessons,” Sharpton said. “They would send them to jail.”
Sharpton promised the Floyd family that his network of activists is in it for the long haul.
“When the last TV truck is gone we will still be here,” he said.
Among those in attendance were Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family’s attorney; boxer Floyd Mayweather, who paid for Floyd’s gold casket; Houston Texans star J.J. Watt; Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green; rappers Slim Thug and Paul Wall; R&B singer Leela James; actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum; and relatives of Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner — unarmed black men who were killed by white assailants in high-profile cases.
“We are not here because we are conservative or liberal,” Green, a Democrat who represents Texas's Ninth Congressional District, said, speaking through a mask emblazoned with the phrase “I can't breathe,” which Floyd said as he lay gasping for air, his neck pinned beneath white officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on May 25.
“George Floyd was not expendable,” Green said. “This is why we’re here. His crime was that he was born black.”
Lee, a Democrat who represents Texas’s 18th Congressional District, delivered an impassioned speech that at times brought the audience to its feet.
“I want to acknowledge those young marchers in the streets. Many of them could not be in this place,” she said. “They are black and brown, they are Asian, they are white. They are protesting and marching, and I’m saying as a momma, I hear your cry.”
Floyd, Lee told the mourners, had been sent to earth on “an assignment,” to help shine a light on police brutality.
“There are people rising up who will never sit down until you get justice,” she said.
Inside the sanctuary, large posters with Floyd's suddenly familiar image painted on them served as a backdrop.
“Everybody knows who Big Floyd is now,” said Philonise Floyd, George’s younger brother. “He’s going to change the world.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city’s attorney is drafting an executive order that will ban chokeholds and strangleholds and require deescalation, among other police reforms in honor of Floyd.
“We honor him not because he was perfect,” Turner said. “We honor him today because when he took his last breath, the rest of us will now be able to breathe.”
Sharpton took a swipe at U.S. Attorney General William Barr while thanking Crump, the Floyd family’s attorney.
“I call him ‘black America’s attorney general,’” Sharpton said of Crump, “probably because we feel we don’t have one.”
Sharpton also weighed in on the controversy over the National Football League’s response to national anthem protests initiated by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this week that the league had made a mistake in not fully supporting its players’ rights to peacefully protest.
“Don’t apologize, give Colin Kaepernick a job back,” Sharpton said. “We don’t want an apology, we want him repaired.”
As he did at the first public memorial for Floyd, in Minneapolis on Friday, Sharpton took aim at President Trump for his Bible photo op after police used pepper spray on peaceful protesters outside the White House. (To Sharpton, it was another example of “wickedness in high places.”)
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who traveled to Houston on Monday to privately meet with Floyd’s family, did not attend Tuesday’s funeral because he did not want his Secret Service detail to disrupt the event. Instead, he recorded a video message that was played at the service.
“To George’s family and friends, Jill and I know the deep hole in your hearts when you bury a piece of your soul deep in this earth,” Biden said. “As I have said to you privately, we know you will never feel the same again.
“For most people, the numbness you feel now will slowly turn, day after day, season after season, into purpose through the memory of the one they lost,” he continued. “But for you, that day has come before you can fully grieve. And unlike most, you must grieve in public. It is a burden — a burden that is now your purpose to change the world for the better in honor of George Floyd.”
The private service, which was carried live on television and online, was the fourth memorial in four days for Floyd. Video of the incident drew near-universal outrage.
Earlier Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called on Minnesotans to hold a moment of silence in honor of Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Chauvin held him pinned on the ground.
After the service, Houston police are expected to escort Floyd’s body to the Houston Memorial Gardens in nearby Pearland, Texas, for his burial.
For the last mile of the procession, his casket will be taken by horse-drawn carriage. At the cemetery, Floyd will be laid to rest next to his mother, Larcenia.
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