George Floyd changed the world after US kept its ‘knee on our neck,’ Sharpton says

Minneapolis CNN  — 

The Rev. Al Sharpton denounced racism and called for accountability in the criminal justice system as he delivered an eulogy Thursday for George Floyd.

“The reason we could never be who we wanted to be and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck,” said Sharpton, the founder of the National Action Network.

Sharpton spoke near a casket carrying Floyd’s body at the North Central University in Minneapolis. The event was the first in a series of memorial services honoring Floyd.

Floyd’s family was joined by dozens of guests, including civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, Martin Luther King III and actor Kevin Hart.

It was a time for Floyd’s family to mourn a man who in his 46 years of life “touched many hearts” and whose death sparked momentum toward change within days.

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

Following his eulogy, Sharpton directed attendees to join him in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the same amount of time than an officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck while he was in custody.

“That’s a long time, Sharpton said. “That’s how long he was laying there.”

‘We don’t want two justice systems in America,’ family attorney says

Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing the Floyd family, called for equality, especially in the way black people are treated in the criminal justice system.

“We don’t want two justice systems in America. One for black and one for white,” Crump said.

“What we endeavor to achieve is equal gestures for the United States of America and George Floyd is the moment to give us the best opportunity I’ve seen in a long time of reaching that high idea that this country was founded on,” he added.

Although the final results of Floyd’s autopsy revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus in April, Crump made clear that the virus had no role in Floyd’s death.

“It was the other pandemic that we are way too familiar with in America, a pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd,” Crump said.

Most attendees were seen wearing masks, including some of Floyd’s relatives, whose masks had his photo on them.

Earlier in the service, Scott Hagan, president of North Central University in Minneapolis, announced the creation a memorial scholarship in Floyd’s name, and called for universities around the country to create similar funds.

‘Everyone wants justice for George,’ his brother says

Anyone who met Floyd couldn’t miss seeing him. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall, a “gentle giant” who made everyone feel welcome.

Some of Floyd’s siblings and other relatives shared moments of their life in Houston together.

They would make banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, play football, and welcome other kids into their home, his brother Philonise Floyd said.

Floyd's cousin Shareeduh Tate along with Floyd's brothers and a newpher spoke about him during Thursday's memorial.

“We didn’t have a whole lot, but we always had each other,” Floyd’s cousin Shareeduh Tate said. “And we were taught that we could always bring people into the fold. No one should ever go home without having a meal or having food.”

Since the 46-year-old died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Floyd’s relatives have been part of massive protests in Texas. His children heard crowds far way from home chant their father’s name. His brother led a prayer vigil at the site of Floyd’s death.

“Everyone wants justice for George, we want justice for George,” Philonise Floyd said. “He’s going to get it.”

Floyd was born in North Carolina but called Houston, Texas, home because he moved there at a young age with his family.

He grew up in the city’s Third Ward – a historically black neighborhood – and it was there where he played basketball, went to church and met many friends, including the mother of his 6-year-old daughter and former NBA player Stephen Jackson.

“He didn’t abuse our friendship, he cherished it,” Jackson told CNN. “Floyd was one person I knew that was supporting me genuinely.”

As a teenager, Floyd was known as a star athlete. He was a tight end on the football team and played basketball at Jack Yates High School.

“Mr. Floyd was a ’93 Yates graduate, an amazing athlete, and a dear friend to many,” Tiffany Guillory, the school’s principal tweeted last week.

He left home for a few years to play basketball at South Florida State College in Avon Park, Florida, the team’s head basketball coach George Walker told CNN.

“He didn’t give me too much trouble as a basketball coach,” Walker said. “He was a pretty good athlete, averaged 12 to 14 points a game.”

Floyd moved to Minneapolis several years ago looking for a better life. He worked as a truck driver and more recently as a bouncer at a club.

He wanted to be a better father, Jackson said, and would often talk about taking care of his daughters.

Floyd will be honored in North Carolina and Houston

People in two other cities will be able to pay their respects in the next five days.

A public viewing and a private memorial service will be held in Raeford, North Carolina, on Saturday – the state where he was born.

Floyd’s sister lives in Hoke County, according to CNN affiliate WRAL.

The public viewing will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters, followed by a private service for family at 3 p.m., said Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin.

Next Monday, Floyd’s body will return to Houston for a public memorial and private service on Tuesday.

The memorial will take place from noon to 6 p.m. at The Fountain of Praise Church at 13950 Hillcroft Ave. in Houston, the Fort Bend Memorial Planning Center said.

The private service will be held at an undisclosed location.

All four ex-police officers charged

The four fired Minneapolis police officers who had been arresting Floyd are now in jail.

New charges were filed Wednesday against the officers. Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter last week and authorities added a charge of second-degree murder.

The other former officers – J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

If convicted, all officers could spend up to 40 years in prison.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said the new charges were not influenced by the public outcry in the case nor the fact that a public memorial is scheduled for Floyd on Thursday.

After learning the officers had been charged, Floyd’s son Quincy Mason told CNN’s Sara Sidner that his family wants justice.

“I’m here with my family. We demand justice. My father shouldn’t have been killed like this,” he said.