HOUSTON (AP) — Hundreds of mourners packed a Houston church Tuesday for the funeral of George Floyd, capping six days of mourning for the black man whose death has led to a global reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice.
“George Floyd was not expendable. This is why we’re here,” Democratic Rep. Al Green of Houston told the crowd at the Fountain of Praise church. “His crime was that he was born black. That was his only crime. George Floyd deserved the dignity and respect that we accord all people just because they are children of a common God.”
Following the funeral, Floyd’s body was to be taken by horse-drawn carriage to a cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he was to be laid to rest next to his mother.
The 46-year-old father, athlete and avid sports fan known as Big Floyd cried out for his mother and pleaded he couldn’t breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck May 25. Cellphone video of the encounter ignited protests and scattered violence in cities across the U.S. and around the world.
While the service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside to pay their respects. Some held signs with messages including “Black Lives Matter” and “Together because of George Floyd.”
“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, Louisiana, with his girlfriend, Brandi Pickney. They wore T-shirts printed with Floyd’s name and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, were led into the sanctuary by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist.
The mourners at the private funeral in the city where Floyd grew up also included rapper Trae tha Truth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who brought the crowd to its feet when he announced he will sign an executive order banning chokeholds in the city.
“No child should have to ask questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: Why?” former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said in a video eulogy played at the service. “Now is the time for racial justice. That is the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”
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 don face masks because of the coronavirus.
The funeral came a day after about 6,000 people attended a public memorial, also in Houston, waiting for hours under a baking sun to pay their respects to Floyd, whose body lay in an open gold-colored casket. Over the past six days, memorials for Floyd were also held in Minneapolis, where he lived in recent years, and Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born.
The services have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become part of the debate over race and justice — among them, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
Floyd’s death drew new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system.
In the past two weeks, 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.
Floyd, a bouncer who had lost his job because of the coronavirus outbreak, was seized by police after being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. He was pinned to the pavement for what prosecutors say was 8 minutes, 46 seconds — a number that has since become a rallying cry among protesters.
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 mostly peaceful demonstrations that erupted 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 overwhelmingly peaceful.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida, Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, Marina Villeneuve in Albany, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta, contributed to this report.