Brother of George Floyd tells funeral ‘he is going to change the world’

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George Floyd has been fondly remembered as “Big Floyd” — a father and brother, an athlete and now a catalyst for change — at a funeral for the black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice.

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

Mobile phone video of the encounter, including Mr Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe”, ignited protests and scattered violence across the US and around the world, turning the 46-year-old into a worldwide symbol of injustice.

The funeral capped six days of mourning for Mr Floyd in three cities: Raeford, North Carolina, 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, Mr Floyd’s golden casket was taken by hearse to the cemetery in the Houston suburb of Pearland 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.

Hundreds of people, some chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd”, gathered along the procession route and outside the cemetery entrance.

George Floyd Funeral
Rodney Floyd speaks during the funeral (Godofredo A Vasquez/Houston Chronicle/AP)

In the past two weeks, amid the furore over Mr 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.

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

The mourners included actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, 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.

The Rev Al Sharpton
The Rev Al Sharpton (David J Phillip/AP)

“Now is the time for racial justice. That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”

Mr Biden made no mention of his opponent in November. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump, who has ignored demands to address racial bias and has called on authorities to crack down hard on lawlessness.

“The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about eight 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 face masks.

Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx
Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx (David J Phillip/AP)

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 travelled more than three hours from Louisiana with his girlfriend. They wore T-shirts printed with Mr Floyd’s name and “I Can’t Breathe”.

Mr Floyd 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 programme that tried to change men’s lives by helping them find work in new settings.

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

Some of the mostly peaceful demonstrations that erupted after Mr 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.

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