MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — After more than a week of outrage and unrest over the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Thursday marked a step toward healing.
The somber service was a contrast to all of the turmoil of the past week, with many in Minneapolis saying they they see hope and healing if Floyd’s killing truly spurs change.
“Amazing Grace” was among the songs chosen for the ceremony, speaking to themes that transcend race and religion, generation and geography, while invoking the need to be saved from sin.
But during an impassioned eulogy, the Reverend Al Sharpton used the imagery of Floyd’s death to speak to the nation’s original sin.
“His last words were, I can’t breathe,” Sharpton said. “George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks – because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck.”
While Floyd’s family shared their memories of the 46-year-old father inside, hundreds gathered outside of the sanctuary.
Standing among the crowd with his vintage bike, Kenneth Pierson said he knows the wheels of justice often turn slowly, but the moment demands immediate action.
“Like all them buildings that were burning up, the American system got to be burned down and a righteous system has to be put in its place,” Pierson said.
Speaking from a windowsill where she sat with her son, Yvonne Ross said all they want is “peace and justice.”
Thursday’s service was the first of three memorials over the next six days.
From Minneapolis, Floyd’s body travels to his birthplace of North Carolina for a viewing and memorial, then to Houston for a funeral, which will reportedly be attended by former Vice President Joe Biden.
A ‘gentle giant’ and a family man
Anyone who met Floyd couldn’t miss seeing him. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall, a “gentle giant.”
“Knowing my brother is to love my brother,” Philonise Floyd, George’s brother, told CNN’s Don Lemon.
“He’s a gentle giant, he don’t hurt anybody.”
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.
He’ll 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 4 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.