George Floyd, the man whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a global movement for racial justice, was laid to rest in his hometown of Houston on Tuesday.
He was buried alongside his mother, Larcenia, in the Houston Memorial Gardens. Though she died two years before him, he had called out to her in his final moments, which were seen and heard around the world.
“You called for mama, now we’re gonna lay your body next to hers,” said civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton in his eulogy. “I know mama’s already embraced you George. Go on and get your rest.”
Floyd, 46, was killed by a police officer who placed his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. His persistent pleas that he could not breathe were ignored by the officer, Derek Chauvin, and his three fellow officers.
In death, he became a symbol of the racial injustice that has haunted America for hundreds of years, and forced a moment of national reckoning not seen since the civil rights era.
Tuesday’s ceremony, inside the cavernous Fountain of Praise church, touched on both the personal and the political. Gospel songs played as images of Floyd were shown on a large screen, interspersed with video from protests sparked by his death. There were remembrances and calls to action.
“My uncle was a father and a brother. He always moved people with his words,” said Floyd’s niece, Brooke Williams, fighting to hold back tears. “That officer showed no remorse while watching my uncle’s soul leaving his body.”
“I can breathe. And as long as I’m breathing, justice will be served,” she continued. “Someone said make America great again, but when has America ever been great? This wasn’t just a murder, this was a hate crime.”
More than 6,000 people came to pay their respects to Floyd on Monday, when his casket was displayed to the public in the Fountain of Praise church. More than 2,000 attended his funeral. Many came both to pay their respects and as a show of solidarity.
Kimberley Brockington, 44, travelled from Austin with her daughter.
“We’ve had too many young black men and women killed by police, and George Floyd’s murder — not death, murder — has changed the world’s view on what is happening,” she said.
“I’m a former police officer. I was raised by a police officer. So I know the law. I know how it’s supposed to be, but unfortunately for a lot of black people it doesn’t go that way,” she added. “We want our lives to matter. We want to be taken seriously. You can’t kill somebody on your job and get away with it. You’re here to serve and protect us, not to kill us.”
Ms Brockington’s daughter, 24-year-old Tysonna, wore a t-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” on the front — the same words spoken by Floyd as he lay dying.
“I remember when the Trayvon Martin situation happened. It was crazy because he and I were the same age. So that affected me a lot,” she said. “It made me have to think, wow, I could actually be killed. No matter how old you are, how you look.”
Gary Birch, 55, travelled seven hours by car from Oklahoma City to pay his respects.
Mass demonstrations have rocked the United States in the two weeks since he was killed, but they have also spread around the world, to London, Paris and Berlin. The issue of racial injustice and police brutality has taken centre stage in the 2020 presidential election, due to take place in November.
Donald Trump has been heavily criticised for his response to the protests sparked by Floyd’s death, and had not commented so far on his funeral today.
His opponent, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, spoke to the church by video link, addressing Floyd’s six-year-old daughter directly.
“When there is justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice in America. Then, Gianna, your daddy will have changed the world,” he said.
“We cannot leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away from racism that stings at our very soul, from systemic abuse that still plagues American life,” he added.