Thursday's memorial was the first of three planned to honor the unarmed man who died while in Minneapolis police custody

By Jeff Truesdell
June 04, 2020 04:57 PM
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Family members joined with religious and political figures as well as celebrities Thursday to honor the life of George Floyd following his killing in police custody in Minneapolis — which brought criminal charges against four officers and sparked hundreds of protests in cities across America.

"That's amazing to me that he touched so many people's hearts, cause he's been touching our hearts," said his brother, Philonise Floyd, during a memorial service for a few hundred invited guests in the Frank J. Lundquist Sanctuary at North Central University that was streamed live.

"I'm just staying as strong as I can, 'cause I need to get it out," he said. "Everybody wants justice for George. He's going to get it."

Attendees who heard a eulogy delivered by the Rev. Al Sharpton included Minnesota's U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Gov. Tim Walz, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Martin Luther King III.

George Floyd's memorial service June 4 at North Central University in Minneapolis
KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty

Among the celebrities were Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, T.I. and wife Tiny, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and former NBA star Stephen Jackson, who was Floyd's friend.

But among the first words were those shared by Floyd's two brothers, Philonise and Rodney, and a nephew, Brandon Williams, all of whom described a close-knit family that included many children from the Houston neighborhood where they grew up who were taken in by Floyd's mother and embraced by Floyd himself.

"He was teaching us how to be a man," said Rodney. "He would stand up for his family and friends, and he was great at that, and I want you guys to know that he would stand up for injustice anywhere."

Said Williams: "More than anything I just want to say thank you to him for being there, someone I could count on no matter what."

Martin Luther King III and family show their respect to the remains of George Floyd awaiting a memorial service in his honor on June 4 in Minneapolis.
KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty

Floyd's May 25 death, captured on video as police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds despite Floyd's protests of "I can't breathe," has turned tens of thousands of people of all races into the streets across America calling for justice and an end to racial inequity in policing.

Memorial service June 4 for George Floyd in Minneapolis.
KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, second from right, pauses to honor George Floyd at a memorial June 4 in Minneapolis.
Bebeto Matthews/AP/Shutterstock

Chauvin, 44, and three other officers present with him at the time of Floyd's detention for reportedly spending a counterfeit $20 bill were fired the next day. Three days after that, the local prosecutor charged Chauvin with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

On Tuesday, the charges against Chauvin were upgraded to the more severe second-degree murder. The three other officers — Thomas Lane, 37; Tou Thao, 34; and J. Alexander Kueng, 26 — were arrested on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter.

George Floyd

None of the accused has entered a formal plea, and attorneys who might represent them have not come forward.

Floyd's family released a statement on social media after the new charges were announced, saying it was a "bittersweet moment" for them but they "are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest."

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced the charges against the four officers and credited eyewitness statements and the widely-seen bystander video that captured Chauvin with his knee firmly planted on the side of Floyd's neck as he was held on the ground.

Minnesota officials also filed a civil rights charge against Chauvin, and promised further investigations into the department's practices.

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Despite being handcuffed and flat on his stomach, Floyd, who was unarmed at the time he was detained, was pinned to the pavement for nearly nine minutes. All the while, he can be heard on video groaning in pain. He repeatedly tells the officers he can't breathe, and at one point, he calls out to his deceased mother.

Protesters gather May 30 in Minneapolis near the makeshift memorial in honor of George Floyd.
Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty

Additional footage of the arrest shows Lane and Thao kneeling on the small of Floyd's back and his legs.

Rendered unconscious and foaming from the mouth, Floyd was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The autopsy report released by the Hennepin County medical examiner labeled Floyd's manner of death as "homicide," and said the cause was cardiopulmonary arrest compounded by the officers' restraint and neck compression.

Floyd's family has planned additional memorials for Saturday in his native North Carolina, and for Tuesday in Houston where he spent most of his life.

At Thursday's memorial, North Central University President Scott Hagan announced the creation of a George Floyd memorial scholarship fund, and challenged colleges across the country to do the same.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.