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Hundreds Gathered At Memorial For George Floyd After Days Of Nationwide Protests

Members of George Floyd's family, including his brother Philonise Floyd, spoke during a memorial service for Floyd on June 4 at North Central University's Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary in Minneapolis.
Image credit: Pierre Michel Jean

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Updated at 3:53 p.m. CT

A ceremony was held in memory of George Floyd, who died after a police officer pressed a knee into his neck while detaining him in Minneapolis last week, triggering protests across the country.

In front of a golden casket and flower bouquets, and against a backdrop of artwork depicting him saying, “I can breathe now,” Floyd’s brother Philonise shared memories of growing up together, eating banana mayonnaise sandwiches and sleeping in the same bed as kids.

“All these people came to see my brother,” Philonise Floyd said. “And that’s amazing to me that he touched so many people’s hearts. Because he’s been touching our hearts.”

“Everybody wants justice,” he continued, referring to the people who have been protesting in the streets. “We want justice for George. He’s gonna get it!”

In an impassioned eulogy, Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said visiting the place where Floyd died made him realize that what happened there is a metaphor for the African American experience.

“When I stood at that spot, the reason it got to me is that George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks,” Sharpton said. “Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being, is you kept your knee on our neck.”

“What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services and in every area of American life,” Sharpton continued. “It’s time to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks!”

Sharpton said he and the Floyd family are organizing a march in the nation’s capital in August to call for equality in policing and criminal justice. The event, he said, would mark the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington during which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Mourners inside the North Central University sanctuary where the memorial is taking place wore masks, some of them with pictures of Floyd on them.

In a statement, the university said it took steps “to ensure appropriate measures will be in place for health and safety related to COVID-19.”

Floyd, 46, died on May 25 after he was pinned to the ground by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin. Video filmed by bystanders shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes.

Floyd’s death set off nationwide protests against police brutality that have continued daily since the encounter.

The memorial service came a day after new charges were announced against Chauvin and three other officers who were on the scene. Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, and the other three with aiding and abetting murder.

The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, said they are grateful the new criminal charges were filed before Floyd is laid to rest, NPR’s David Schaper reports.

“It is a source of peace in this painful time,” Crump said.

Floyd’s son Quincy Mason visited the site of his father’s death on Wednesday and took a knee.

“No man or woman should be without their fathers,” Mason said outside the Cup Foods convenience store in South Minneapolis.

Earlier this week, Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd’s daughter, told reporters that 6-year-old Gianna had her father taken away too soon.

“If there’s a problem she’s having and needs her dad, she does not have that anymore,” Washington said through tears.

Gesturing to their daughter, Washington said the 6-year-old was proof Floyd was a good man.

“I want justice for him, because he was good, no matter what anybody thinks, he was good,” Washington said.

The ceremony kicked off a series of memorial services for Floyd. Additional services are planned in the coming days in North Carolina, where Floyd was born, and Houston, where Floyd lived much of his life. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is expected to attend Floyd’s funeral next Tuesday in Houston.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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