The first of three funerals to commemorate George Floyd, the man whose name has been chanted by hundreds of thousands of people in recent days, is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis, a service featuring the reverend and civil rights leader Al Sharpton, and family attorney Ben Crump.
The commemorative event will begin at 14:00 local time (18:00 GMT) and will be broadcast live on the main news channels in the United States.
The event will take place at the Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary of the city’s Central North University, where Floyd died in police custody on May 25. Al Sharpton will give a national funeral eulogy, and Floyd’s family lawyer Ben Crump will give a speech on criminal justice.
Floyd’s body will later travel to Raeford, North Carolina, where he was born 46 years ago, for a public wake and a private family funeral on Saturday.
In addition, a grand funeral will be held Monday in Houston, where Floyd spent much of his life, which will include speeches by Sharpton, Crump, and Remus E. Wright, the family’s pastor. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee for the presidency, could attend. Then a private burial will be held.
The memorial services to honour George Floyd are extraordinary: three cities in six days, with the prospect of mourners paying their respects in the communities where he was born, grew up and died.
But so are the circumstances around them: Since his death on May 25 in Minneapolis, Floyd’s name has been chanted by hundreds of thousands of people and has fueled a movement. Violent encounters between police, protesters and observers have inflamed a country that is already recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
The organizers of the memorials want to recognize the meaning that Floyd had in life for his large family and the broader meaning he assumed in death, which happened after a white officer pressed a knee to the neck of the handcuffed black man for several minutes, even after Floyd stopped moving and begged to be allowed to breathe.
“It would be inappropriate if you didn’t consider the life, love and celebration the family wants”, said Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader who will praise Floyd in two cities. “But it would also be inappropriate … if you acted like we were at a funeral that occurred under natural circumstances“.
“The family is not independent of the community”, he said. “The family wants to see something happen”.
Both the events in Minneapolis and Houston will include personal tributes and praise for social justice, Sharpton said.
Due to the coronavirus, Houston’s Fountain of Praise Church will be limited to 20% of its capacity and visitors will be required to wear masks.
Floyd’s last trip was designed with intent, Sharpton said. After leaving Houston to go to Minneapolis in 2014 in search of a job and a new life, Floyd will return to that path.
“We need to make the first commemorative statement of the city he chose to go to for a living, which ended his life”, he added.
Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University said that “for a person who was virtually unknown to the world until last week, this is unprecedented”.
“This has touched a bare nerve“, said Carson. “It has been piling up for all of American history. I think people who know the history of this country understand that there is a lot to atone for and a lot to celebrate in terms of people who upheld justice”.
The size of the commemorations for Floyd reflects his impact and the need to acknowledge the widespread pain his death caused, said Tashel Bordere, a grief expert and assistant professor at the University of Missouri. It also reflects a tradition, particularly in African American communities, that great funerals can provide recognition that a lost loved one struggled to receive in life.
But, he added, “the pain goes far beyond the funeral; healing goes far beyond the funeral. Justice is experienced when people feel safe in their communities and in their lives”.
Carson said the impact of Floyd’s death would be measured ultimately by changes in the way police treat African-Americans and the disparate rates at which blacks are jailed.
“Otherwise, it will be the next George Floyd and the next”, he said.
New Charges against the accused police officers
The commemoration for George Floyd comes a day after the prosecution charged three more police officers and filed a new, more severe charge against Derek Chauvin, the agent at the centre of the case.
If convicted, they could face up to four decades in prison.
The prosecution’s move culminated a week unprecedented in modern American history, in which communities of all sizes recorded protests, mostly peaceful, that were peppered with episodes of violence, including deadly attacks on police officers, mass thefts and arson in some areas.
Crump, the family’s attorney, said the additional charges against the officers are “a bittersweet moment” and “an important step forward on the road to justice”.
Following the announcement of the new allegations, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said the state and country need to “seize the moment” and use the heartbreaking events of the past week to confront the effects of racism, including inequality in educational and economic opportunities.
“I think this is possibly our last chance, as a state and as a nation, to solve this systematic problem”, he said.
(With information from AP )