Mourners gather to pay their respects at a memorial service for George Floyd on Thursday in Minneapolis. He is being honored Saturday in North Carolina.
Photo: Associated Press
Photo: Associated Press

George Floyd honored in North Carolina

Watch the memorial here. NOTE: Part of the service is muted.

Thousands paid their respects to Floyd.

Floyd, whose death at the hands of police sparked global protests, was honored at a fiery memorial Thursday in Minneapolis. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader, declared it is time for black people to demand, “Get your knee off our necks!”

The service in Minnesota was the first in a series of memorials set for three cities over six days. It unfolded at a sanctuary at North Central University as a judge a few blocks away set bail at $750,000 each for the three fired Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.

Floyd, a 46-year-old former bouncer, died May 25 after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, reportedly put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he lay handcuffed on the pavement, gasping that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin has been charged with murder, and he and the others could get up to 40 years in prison.

From coast to coast, and from Paris and London to Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, the chilling cellphone video of Floyd’s slow death has set off turbulent and sometimes-violent demonstrations against police brutality, racism and inequality.

“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 to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” Sharpton said in a fierce eulogy. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!’ ”

Sharpton vowed this will become a movement to “change the whole system of justice.”

“Time is out for not holding you accountable! Time is out for you making excuses! Time is out for you trying to stall! Time is out for empty words and empty promises! Time is out for you filibustering and trying to stall the arm of justice!” he said.

The service drew the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and members of Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ayanna Pressley. Among the celebrities in attendance were T.I., Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Marsai Martin.

“All these people came to see my brother,” Philones Floyd told the crowd at the memorial in awe as he recounted their childhoods playing catch and eating banana-mayonnaise sandwiches. “That’s amazing to me that he touched so many people’s hearts because he touched our hearts.”

Those gathered stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time Floyd was alleged to be on the ground under the control of police.

The casket was flanked by white and purple flowers, and a vibrant image was projected above the pulpit of a mural of Floyd painted at the street corner where he was seized by police on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. The message on the mural: “I can breathe now.”

The sanctuary normally seats 1,000, but because of the coronavirus outbreak, the capacity was reduced to about 500, and many mourners wore masks.

A public viewing will be held Monday in Houston, where he was raised and lived most of his life. Then a 500-person service will take place Tuesday at the Fountain of Praise church.

In the U.S., where protests had been marked by bouts of lawlessness since last week, relative quiet continued for a second straight night Wednesday following a decision by prosecutors to charge the three other officers at the scene and file a new, more serious count of murder against Chauvin.

The new charges in Minneapolis punctuated an unprecedented week in recent American history, in which largely peaceful protests took place in communities of all sizes but were rocked by bursts of violence, including deadly attacks on officers, theft, vandalism and arson.

In Minneapolis alone, more than 220 buildings were damaged or burned, with damage topping $55 million, city officials said.

Nationwide, more than 10,000 people have been arrested, an Associated Press tally found. More than a dozen deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.

Demonstrations have been held around the globe, with protesters focusing on abuses in their own countries.

“It’s a solidarity question. We stand with our brothers, internationally, our sisters as well, but the same thing is happening here. It’s no different,” Isaak Kabenge said in Stockholm.

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North Central University, which hosted Thursday’s memorial, said it is “a Christian university situated in the heart of Minneapolis. Our hope is that our sanctuary will provide a space of welcome and warmth for Mr. Floyd’s loved ones and their guests during this time of remembrance and worship.” 

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump also was scheduled to speak Thursday. 

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Crump called the additional charges against the officers “a bittersweet moment” and “a significant step forward on the road to justice.” 

Hundreds of protesters were in New York City’s Washington Square Park when the charges were announced. 

The mood in New York turned somber later in the day after a police officer on an anti-looting patrol was ambushed by a man who walked up behind him and stabbed him in the neck. Two other officers suffered gunshot injuries to their hands in the struggle, and the attacker was in critical condition after being shot by police. 

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, counts that still stand. 

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The new second-degree murder charge alleges that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death without intent while committing another felony, namely third-degree assault. It carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, compared with a maximum of 25 years for third-degree murder. 

The other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — face the same maximum penalties for aiding and abetting. All three were in custody by Wednesday evening. The multiple charges against each officer would offer a jury more options to find them guilty. 

Also Wednesday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released the full autopsy report on Floyd, which noted he had previously tested positive for COVID-19 but was apparently asymptomatic. The report was released with the family’s permission. A summary had said Floyd had a heart attack while being restrained. 

President Donald Trump has pushed the nation’s governors to take a hard line against the violence. He again tweeted Wednesday: "LAW & ORDER!"

A large security force — including officers from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons and, according to a senior defense official, at least 2,200 National Guard soldiers — was out in force Wednesday as thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in the nation’s capital. 

In New York City, where high-end stores were looted in earlier days, some retailers fortified their property. Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows were boarded up, then covered in chain-link fencing and razor wire as a line of tattooed men with dogs stood guard out front. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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