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Floyd laid to rest, touted as a catalyst for change

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | June 10, 2020 at 7:38 a.m.
A horse-drawn hearse carrying George Floyd’s coffin arrives with the funeral procession Tuesday at Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in Pearland, Texas.
(AP/Eric Gay)

HOUSTON -- George Floyd was fondly remembered Tuesday as "Big Floyd" -- a father and brother, athlete and neighborhood mentor, and now a catalyst for change -- at a funeral for the man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice.

More than 500 mourners wearing masks against the coronavirus packed a Houston church a little more than two weeks after Floyd, a black man, was pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on Floyd's neck for what prosecutors said was 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfcRu1qMrRo]

Cellphone video of the encounter, including Floyd's pleas of "I can't breathe," ignited protests and violence across the U.S. and around the world, turning the 46-year-old Floyd -- a man who in life was little known beyond the public housing project where he was raised in Houston's Third Ward -- into a worldwide symbol of injustice.

Floyd was the oldest of five siblings, and his family begged of the world one thing: "Fight for my brother."

"Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that's where he was born at," Floyd's brother, Rodney, told mourners at Fountain of Praise church. "But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world."

The funeral capped six days of mourning for Floyd in three cities: Raeford, N.C., near where he was born; Houston, where he grew up; and Minneapolis, where he died. The memorials have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become familiar in the debate over race and justice -- among them, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.

After the service, Floyd's golden casket was taken by hearse to the cemetery in the Houston suburb of Pearland, Texas, where he was to be entombed next to his mother, for whom he cried out as he lay dying. A mile from the graveyard, the casket was transferred to a glass-sided carriage drawn by a pair of white horses. A brass band played as his casket was taken inside the mausoleum.

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Hundreds of people, some chanting, "Say his name, George Floyd," gathered along the procession route and outside the cemetery entrance in the mid-90s heat.

"I don't want to see any black man, any man, but most definitely not a black man sitting on the ground in the hands of bad police," said Marcus Brooks, 47, who set up a tent with other graduates of Jack Yates High School, Floyd's alma mater.

CHANGES AFOOT

In the past two weeks, during the furor over Floyd's death, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place -- Confederate statues have been toppled, and many cities are debating overhauling, dismantling or cutting funding for police departments. Authorities in some places have barred police from using chokeholds or are otherwise rethinking policies on the use of force.

In Washington, Republican Sen. Tim Scott proposed a national database of police officer-involved shootings. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, wants to stop sending surplus U.S. military equipment to law enforcement agencies, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, seeks a number of bipartisan bills in response to police violence.

In Seattle, a Black Lives Matter group sued the Seattle Police Department on Tuesday to halt the violent tactics it has used to break up protests in recent days.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Korematsu Center at Seattle University School of Law and the law firm Perkins Coie filed the complaint in U.S. District Court on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County.

Dozens of Floyd's family members, most dressed in white, took part in the four-hour service. Grammy-winning musician Ne-Yo was among those who sang.

His aunt Kathleen McGee remembered him as a "pesky little rascal."

Floyd was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1973 to Larcenia Jones Floyd, affectionately known as "Miss Cissy" when she went to live at Cuney Homes, a large brick-faced housing complex in the heart of Houston's Third Ward. She worked at a burger stand nearby, Guidry's, where Floyd would go often and snack on whatever food she would surrender.

"Sometimes we'd just go through there, and he'd go check on his mom and we would grab a burger or fries and a drink or something," said friend Herbert Mouton. "It was a simple thing. Just going to check on his mom at work."

Tuesday's mourners included actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, J.J. Watt of the NFL's Houston Texans, rapper Trae tha Truth, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who brought the crowd to its feet when he announced that he will sign an executive order banning chokeholds in the city.

Turner, a Democrat, declared Tuesday "George 'Perry' Day" and said he also would also require city officers to deescalate confrontations and exhaust all alternatives before using their guns. Turner said Floyd gave his final breaths so others won't endure the same fate.

"The rest of us will now be able to breathe," Turner said.

BIDEN REMARKS

Speaker after speaker implored America to move from indifference to healing, from fear to courage and from mistrust to unity.

"I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: Why? Why is Daddy gone?" former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said, addressing Floyd's 6-year-old daughter in a video eulogy played at the service. "Now is the time for racial justice. That's the answer we must give to our children when they ask why."

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Biden made no mention of his opponent in November. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump.

"The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police murder of George Floyd," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil-rights activist. "He challenged China on human rights. But what about the human right of George Floyd?"

Most of the pews were full, with relatively little space between people.

"So much for social distancing today," the Rev. Remus Wright told mourners, gently but firmly instructing those attending to wear masks.

Texas has no limit on how many people can gather in places of worship during the pandemic, though Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has encouraged churches to follow federal health guidelines.

Although the church service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside to pay their respects.

"There's a real big change going on, and everybody, especially black, right now should be a part of that," said Kersey Biagase, who traveled more than three hours from Port Barre, La., with his girlfriend, Brandi Pickney. They wore T-shirts printed with Floyd's name and "I Can't Breathe."

FLOYD'S STRUGGLES

Floyd was the first in his family to graduate from high school, and he went on to junior college to play football but did not finish or earn a degree. Family members said he struggled for years trying to find a job after running afoul of the law.

He served nearly five years in prison for robbery with a deadly weapon before becoming a mentor and a church outreach volunteer in Houston. He moved to Minnesota several years ago through a program that tried to change men's lives by helping them find work in new settings.

At the time of his death, Floyd was out of work as a bouncer at a Minneapolis club that had closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. He was arrested by police after being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.

Four Minneapolis officers were arrested in his death: Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with second-degree murder. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting. All four could get up to 40 years in prison.

Some of the demonstrations sparked after Floyd's death were marked by bursts of arson, assaults, vandalism and smash-and-grab raids on businesses, with more than 10,000 people arrested. But protests in recent days have been more peaceful.

The Rev. William Lawson, pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, drew parallels between the story of Jesus and Floyd, both of whom, he said, came from humble beginnings and whose deaths changed the world.

"Can any good thing come out of a tragedy like this?" Lawson said. "His death did not simply start a bunch of good speeches, a bunch of tributes. Out of his death has come a movement, a worldwide movement."

Information for this article was contributed by Juan A. Lozano, Nomaan Merchant, Adam Geller, Gene Johnson and Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press; and by Arelis R. Hernandez, Brittney Martin, Marisa Iati, Lateshia Beachum and Michael Brice-Saddler of The Washington Post.

Photo by POOL Houston Chronicle
Rodney Floyd (left) and his brother Philonise listen Tuesday as mourners sing “Oh, How Precious” during the funeral for their brother, George Floyd, at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston. More photos at arkansasonline.com/610floyd/.
(AP/Houston Chronicle/Godofredo A. Vasquez)
Photo by AP
California Republican state Sen. Patricia Bates and other members of the California Legislature kneel Tuesday for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd at the state Capitol in Sacramento. (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
LaTonya Floyd speaks during the funeral service for her brother George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd attends the funeral service for Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks via video link as family and guests attend the funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Members of the Texas Southern University police department pause during a funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Rodney Floyd attends the funeral service for his brother George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Actor Jamie Foxx, right, speaks with Rodney Floyd during the funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Roxie Washington holds Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd as they attend the funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
The hands of funeral home staff move the casket of George Floyd into a hearse after the funeral service for Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
Philonise Floyd, center is comforted during the funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
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