Known in life by his childhood friends and family as Big Floyd, George Floyd is now known around the world by how he died. Handcuffed. Faced down. On the street in Minneapolis. A police officer’s knee to the neck. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
I was compelled to watch the funeral service for Floyd streamed on Tuesday afternoon in his hometown of Houston. Many spoke, sang songs of hope and sorrow and read scripture.
His family of brothers, his aunt, niece and friends addressed the crowd who were dispersed throughout the large chapel, wearing masks and maintaining safe distance from each other. From their remembrances of George Floyd, the man, I learned what a central figure he was in their lives and in the community. A good hearted giant who loved playing sports. A man who was there for them. A man, now, who is gone from their lives forever because the law enforcement in Minneapolis failed him to death.
And, I could feel the need of the speakers to talk about George Floyd whose death is now the symbol of a movement, and about how he did not die in vain.
Those two sides of the story of Floyd get intermingled into the total conversation. First, a man. A man who had restarted his life, redirected his path living beyond troubles with the law in his past. A reporter for the New York Times said that his friends and family needed to celebrate and remember him as the man that he was before the symbolism took over his memory.
I can breathe.
Brooke Williams, Floyd’s teenage niece, declared, “I can breathe. And as long as I’m breathing, justice will be served. This is not just a murder but a hate crime.”
She went on to talk about her uncle, how funny he was, how loving, how supportive. He was her Superman. “I want to share some memories of my uncle, because that’s all I have…memories.” She poured her young heart out and then she quoted Tupac Shakur. “You gotta make a change. You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us, to do what we gotta do to survive.” And then she closed with, “America, it is time for a change even if it must begin with more protests. No justice. No peace!”
The Reverend Al Sharpton gave the eulogy as he did the week before at a memorial service in North Carolina. As Sharpton began speaking I started transcribing his sermon. I felt like what he was saying was going to be important. The Reverend is known for speaking the hard truth as an activist for racial justice. Below are his words as best as I could transcribe them.
Rev. Sharpton: I hear people talk about what happened to George Floyd like this was something less than a crime. This was not just a tragedy. It was a crime.
They’re going to do everything they can to delay these trials. To delay the accountability. To try to wear this family down. And many of those coming here today, skinning and grinning for the cameras, will not be here for the long run. We must commit to this family, all of this family, that until these people pay for what they did, we will be there with them because lives like George will not matter until somebody pays the costs for taking their lives.
There is an intentional neglect to make people pay for taking our lives. If four blacks had done to one white, if four black cops had done to one white what was done to George, they wouldn’t have to teach no new lessons! They wouldn’t have to get corporations to send money! They would have sent them to jail!
Until we know that the price for black life is the same as the price for white life, we will keep coming back to these situations over and over again.
Either the law will work or it won’t work.”
Sharpton recognized the families attending today who have had fathers, sons and daughters killed by police officers around the country. He called them each by name and asked them to stand.
These families understand the pain that the Floyd family is going through more than anyone because they have gone through the pain.”
The mother of Trayvon Martin, will you stand.
The mother of Eric Garner, will you stand.
The family of Pamela Turner right here in Houston, will you stand,
The father of Michael Brown of Ferguson Missouri, will you stand.
The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, will you stand.
All of these families came to stand with this family!
Until the law is upheld and people know that they will go to jail they are going to keep doing it because they are protected by wickedness in high places.
The signal that they are sending is that if you’re in law enforcement, the law doesn’t apply to you.
It’s nice to see that some people have changed their mind. Head of the NFL said, ‘Yeah, maybe we were wrong. Football players, maybe they did have the right to peacefully protest.’
Well, don’t apologize, give Colin Kaepernik his job back!
Don’t come with some empty apology. Take a man’s livelihood. Strip a man down of his talents. And four years later when the whole world is marching all of a sudden you do a FaceTime talking about you sorry. Minimizing the value of our lives. You sorry! Then repay the damage you did to the career you stood down because when Colin took a knee he took it for the families in this building. We don’t want an apology. We want him repaired.
I was working out this morning, white fellow exercising there said to me, ‘I see you on tv and you are always talking about race.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘But haven’t we come a long way?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but what you’ve got to understand is how far we’ve got to go. And you gotta understand how deep it is.
He said, ‘Whaddaya Mean?’
I said, about nine years ago a newspaper in NY did a background story on my family, and it found out that my great grandfather was a slave in Edgefield, SC. I went down there with the newspaper and other press. And we went to the graveyard. My great grandfather was owned by the family of Strom Thurmond, the segregationist. I went to the white church, the First Baptist Church, and in the graveyard…about a quarter of the cemetery’s tombstones were Thurmonds and Sharptons. And I said, you mean all of these…they said, wait a minute, the plantation of your great grandfather was about a mile away. They buried the slaves there. They put pebbles over their graves.
So it occurred to me that every time that I write my name, sir, that is NOT MY name. That’s the name of who owned my great grandfather. That’s how deep Race is. Every time I write my name I’m writing American history of what happened to my people!
I can’t talk about what my great grandparents did. They were enslaved. And we’re still being treated less than others.
Until America comes to terms with what it has done and what it did, we will not be able to heal because you’re not recognizing the wound.
God took the rejected stone and made him [George Floyd] the cornerstone of a movement that’s gonna change the whole wide world.
If you had any idea that all of us would react, you’d a taken your knee off of his neck.
If you had any idea that everybody from the 3rd Ward in Houston and from Hollywood would show up, you’d a took your knee off his neck.
Sharpton addressed the actions of President Trump head on.
You’re sitting there trying to figure out how you going to stop the protests rather than how you gonna stop the brutality.
You calling your cabinet in trying to figure out how it’s going to affect your vote rather than how it is going to affect our lives..
You scheming on how you can spin the story rather than how you can achieve justice!
Wickedness in high places!
You take rubber bullets and tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters and then take a bible and walk in front of a church and use a church as a prop.
Wickedness in high places!
You ain’t been walking across that street when the church didn’t have the boards up. You weren’t holding up no bible when Arbery was killed in Brunswick. When Taylor was killed in Louisville.
Wickedness in high places!
August 28th we’re going to Washington on the anniversary of “I have a Dream”. George Floyd’s family, and all of these families will lead the march.
I pulled photos from the Houston Chronicle and the Washington Post for this article.