Breaking News
More () »

'You changed the world George': Floyd's memorial service in Minneapolis marked by calls to action

"You changed the world George, we're gonna keep marching George, we're gonna keep fighting George," Al Sharpton said as he delivered the eulogy at Floyd's memorial.
Credit: WFAA

MINNEAPOLIS — Watch the entire memorial service for George Floyd here.

After more than a week of protests over the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the city served as the backdrop for a memorial service Thursday to mourn his passing.

Floyd's memorial service, the first of several around the country, took place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. CT at North Central University (NCU) in downtown Minneapolis.

Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy, and when he approached the pulpit he said, "I want us to not sit here and act like we had a funeral on the schedule."

"George Floyd should not be among the deceased," Sharpton said. "He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction. He died because of there has not been the corrective behavior that has taught this country that if you commit a crime it does not matter whether you wear bluejeans or a blue uniform, you must pay for the crime you commit."

Sharpton cited Ecclesiastes 3, which states that for everything there is a season.

"You need to know what time it is," he said. "This family will not let you use George as a prop. Let us stand for what is right."

RELATED: Minneapolis police officers fired after death of man recorded saying 'I can't breathe'

RELATED: 'Everybody loved Floyd': Remembering George Floyd

Floyd lived in St. Louis Park. The 46-year-old father moved to Minnesota from Houston, Texas. His death caught the world's attention when a bystander video showed him pleading for help, repeating the words "I can't breathe," until he went limp. Prosecutors later said former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's knee was on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

The Minneapolis memorial service comes a day after an announcement that charges against Chauvin have been upgraded to second-degree murder. He is also charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The other three officers, Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were also arrested Thursday and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired the day after Floyd's death.

RELATED: Former officers charged in George Floyd's death appear in court

Sharpton referenced some of George Floyd's last words, "I can't breathe." He also spoke at Eric Garner's funeral, remembered for saying the same phrase before he died in a police chokehold. Sharpton visited the site of Floyd's death earlier in the week.

"When I stood at that spot, the reason it got to me is George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks," he 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."

Rev. Sharpton called out systemic inequality in all areas of American society, drawing the comparison to George Floyd's death under the knee of a police officer.

"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. We had creative skills. We could do whatever anybody else could do. But we couldn't get your knee off our neck. ... It's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'Get your knee off our necks.'"

Floyd's death has sparked protests all over the world, along with rioting in some cities. Sharpton said that no one in Floyd's family condones violence.

"There's a difference between those calling for peace, and those calling for quiet," he said. "Some of y'all don't want peace. You just want quiet. You just want us to shut up and suffer in silence."

Sharpton said when he saw white people outnumbering black people at some marches, and the movement spreading to places like Germany and England, he knew that "it's a different time, and a different season."

"America, this is the time of dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system," he said.

Sharpton told the crowd it's time to go back to Washington and tell them, "This is the time to stop this." He said the Floyd family and the Garner family will help to lead the charge.

"God will, God always has, he'll make a way for his children. Go on home George, get your rest George, you changed the world George, we're gonna keep marching George, we're gonna keep fighting George," Sharpton ended his eulogy by saying.

RELATED: Chauvin charges elevated to 2nd-degree murder in Floyd's death, 3 other officers charged

RELATED: First memorial service for George Floyd scheduled in Minneapolis

Before Sharpton spoke, Ben Crump, the attorney for Floyd's family, delivered a "National Criminal Justice Address." He said he wanted to "put it on the record" that while coronavirus is forcing them to social distance at the service, it was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed Floyd.

"It was that other pandemic that we are far too familiar with in America, that pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd," he said.

Floyd’s bother, Philonise, recalled how their mother would take in other kids, most of them George’s friends.

“Everywhere you go and see people, how they cling to him," he said. "They wanted to be around him. George, he was like a general. Every day he walks outside, it’d be a line of people just like when we came in, wanting to greet him and wanting to have fun with him.”

Philonise said even if those people were smokers or homeless, you couldn't tell when they were with George.

"They felt like they was the president, because that's how he made you feel," he said. "He was powerful, man."

RELATED: Minnesota Dept. of Human Rights files civil rights charge against Minneapolis police

RELATED: George Floyd's family, attorney visit memorial site in Minneapolis

Shareeduh Tate, George Floyd's cousin, echoed that, saying they were always taught to welcome people into the fold.

"George was somebody who was always welcoming, always made people feel like that they were special, and nobody felt left out when he would enter a room," Tate said.

Another brother, Rodney, said he wished George could see the crowds that have come together in his honor.

“It’s a beautiful thing, this great love that we’re receiving,” he said.

"I want you guys to know that he would stand up for any injustice everywhere," Rodney said, and then asked the crowd to say George's name.

George Floyd's nephew, Brandon Williams, said he "gravitated" to George.

"More than anything I just want say thank you to him for being there," he said. "He made sure I had sneakers and clothes and a lot of stuff like that, and I appreciate that."

Williams shared a story about George celebrating Lebron James winning a championship. Williams said his uncle told him, "I feel like I won a championship." That phrase then became a common refrain for George.

"I know more than anything with everybody grieving and hurting, he would want us to feel like we won a championship," he said.

"We all need one another, and you can tell this family always needed George, and so it's awfully difficult for them," Crump said as he again took the podium. "The plea for justice is simply this. Dr. Martin Luther King said, 'He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.'"

Crump addressed his remarks to Martin Luther King III, who was in attendance, saying that what the world saw in the video of Floyd's death was evil.

"Protest against evil," he said to applause from the crowd. "We cannot cooperate with evil. We cannot cooperate with injustice. We cannot cooperate with torture. Because George Floyd deserved better than that. We all deserve better than that. His family deserved better than that. His children deserve better than that."

Crump said George Floyd wanted what anyone else wants: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. "But he was denied those rights," he said.

"We seek a broader, more transformative justice," he said. "A more just criminal justice system. ... Make the Constitution real for all Americans."

Crump said George Floyd's death and the resulting movement is the "best opportunity" he has seen in a long time of reaching the ideals that the country was founded on.

"When we fight for the George Floyds of the world, but more importantly, when we fight for the unknown George Floyds of the world," Crump said, then citing a long list of African Americans who died at the hands of police, "When we fight for the least of these what we are really doing is having America live up to its creed. What we are really doing is helping America be the great beacon of hope and justice for all the world to marvel. But most importantly brothers and sisters, what we are doing is helping America be America for all Americans."

The service began with a reading of Psalm 27 by Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church. After that, NCU President Dr. Scott Hagen announced the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship and challenged other universities to do the same.

"Guide this generation to change the national narrative on race and power," Hagen prayed to open the service, "and change all of our hearts until they match your heart."

Hagen was followed by a solo of "Amazing Grace" by Liwana Porter of Minneapolis, who had the crowd join her for the chorus of "Praise God."

National news leaders like Lester Holt will be broadcasting from the top of the parking garage across the street, and well-known figures like Jesse Jackson, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, T.I., Master P, Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart are in attendance.

Nurses were checking temperatures at the doors of North Central University for those guests entering to pay their respects, as the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat to any large gathering.

The memorial service ended with eight minutes of silence, a reflection of the eight minutes and 46 seconds Floyd spent under the knee of Minneapolis police.

"That's a long time," Sharpton said at the end of the pause. "There's no excuse. They had enough time. They had enough time. Now what will we do with the time we have?"

The second public viewing memorial is 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 6 in North Carolina. There will be two more services June 8 and 9 in Houston, Texas.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took over leading the investigation into Floyd's death Sunday at the request of Gov. Tim Walz. On Thursday, while announcing the new charges against Chauvin and the other officers, he acknowledged how difficult it will be to win a conviction against a police officer. 

In fact, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is working in partnership with Ellison on the case, is the only Minnesota prosecutor who has done so - with the conviction of Mohamed Noor in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

"History does show that there are clear challenges here, and we are going to be working very hard," Ellison said.

Ellison said public pressure and the upcoming memorial did not play into his decision to file charges against the other officers, or upgrade the charges against Chauvin.

"I say George Floyd mattered, he was loved, his family was important, his life had value, and we will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it," Ellison said.

RELATED: 'Everybody loved Floyd': Remembering George Floyd

RELATED: Civil rights leaders call charges against officers a tipping point

In a parallel gathering Thursday, a group formed at the site of Floyd's death at 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis during the memorial service.

George Floyd's son, Quincy Mason, visited the site the day before, on Wednesday. The intersection has become a growing memorial and a place for mourners to gather.

"No man or woman should be without their fathers," he said. "I appreciate everyone showing support and love."

The family's attorney, Ben Crump, stood at Quincy's side and spoke to the public, calling this moment in history "a tipping point to save America," saying the country is now facing a test of its commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"Well America, that means black people too," he said. 

Crump then started to repeat a phrase that soon the whole crowd was chanting: "All the world is watching."

Before You Leave, Check This Out