Thousands of people gathered to remember George Floyd, whose killing in police custody last week sparked outrage and widespread protests across the country, at memorial services in Minneapolis and Brooklyn on Thursday.
Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being detained by four Minneapolis police officers who were responding to a call about a person using a counterfeit $20 bill. The officers, whose actions were captured in a disturbing video, pinned him to the ground and held him in a knee chokehold for more than eight minutes as Floyd cried that he couldn't breathe.
The four officers have since been arrested and are facing charges of second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
"We proclaim, as we memorialize George Floyd, do not cooperate with evil. Protest against evil, join the young people in the streets protesting against the evil, the inhumane, the torture that they witnessed on that video," Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Floyd's family, said, as he made an impassioned plea for justice during the service at North Central University in Minneapolis.
"We cannot cooperate with evil," Crump continued. "We cannot cooperate with injustice. We cannot cooperate with torture because George Floyd deserved better than that. We all deserve better than that."
The service, which was closed to the public and attended by several hundred people, included members of Floyd's family and his friends, as well as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, actor Kevin Hart, and rapper Ludacris, among other notable officials and figures.
"He was powerful man. He had a way with words," his brother Philonise Floyd said during the service. "Everybody loved George. ... He touched so many people’s hearts."
As they came together to remember Floyd during the coronavirus pandemic, speakers acknowledged that it wasn't COVID-19 that killed Floyd, but another pandemic that has plagued the United States for centuries.
"It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd," Crump said. "It was that other pandemic that we’re far too familiar with in America. That pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd."
As civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton put it, what happened to Floyd "has been the story of black folks."
"He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction," Sharpton said as he delivered Floyd's eulogy. "He died because there has not been the corrective behavior that has taught this country that if you commit a crime, it does not matter whether you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform, you must pay for the crime you commit."
Throughout the eulogy, Sharpton spoke powerfully about the history of discrimination in the US, using the way in which police killed Floyd as a metaphor for racism.
“The reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck," Sharpton said. "We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills. We could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn't get your knee off our neck."
He continued, "What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country in education, in health services, and in every area of American life. It’s time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'Get your knee of our necks.'”
In Brooklyn, thousands poured into Cadman Plaza, chanting “no justice, no peace” and holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Say His Name.”
Before the memorial began, the crowd took a knee together in silent protest.
When Terrence Floyd, the brother of George, first took to the stage to pay tribute to his brother, he was unable to speak.
He looked up to the sky and wept, while the crowd chanted, “You are not alone.”
“I thank God for y’all showing love to my brother,” said Floyd. “At the end of the day, my brother’s gone, but the Floyd name still lives on.”
He spoke about the protests that have swept the country, declaring: “I’m proud of the protests, but I’m not proud of the destruction.”
“My brother wasn’t about that,” he said. “Power to the people."
“Not just my people, not just your people, not just the people they think is important or whatever. I’m talking about power to the people. All of us.”
When Mayor Bill de Blasio took to the stage, the audience booed and drowned out much of his speech.
"It will not be about words in this city," said de Blasio, as the crowd chanted "resign" and turned their backs on him.
"It will be about change in this city. Change in the NYPD," said the mayor, adding it will be "change you can see with your own eyes."
Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, called out the mayor’s handling of the protests, which have included multiple incidents of police brutality across the city, and accused de Blasio of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have the wrong president, we have the wrong governor, and we have the wrong mayor,” said Williams.
New York Attorney General Tish James called the protesters “an entire generation of warriors" who "are praying with their feet.”
After the memorial, mourners — including the mayor — marched over Brooklyn Bridge.
More than 1,000 miles away, speakers at Floyd's memorial service in Minneapolis called on people to continue making their voices heard. Sharpton, who announced plans to return to Washington, DC, on the anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for a new march, said recent protests have made him more hopeful than ever that change is going to come.
"When I looked this time and saw marches where in some cases young whites outnumbered the blacks ... I know that it's a different time and a different season. When I looked and saw people in Germany marching for George Floyd, it's a different time and a different season," he said. "America, this is the time of dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system."