Mourners vowing to be good Samaritans in the fight for racial justice packed a Houston church on Tuesday and paid tribute to George Floyd, whose death touched off worldwide protests against racism and police brutality.
Capping a three-state, nearly week-long memorial, Floyd’s loved ones said final goodbyes at Fountain of Praise church, honoring the Minneapolis man who was born in North Carolina and raised in Houston.
Just as the service began, Floyd’s golden casket was closed for a final time.
“This will be a home-going celebration of brother George Floyd,” Fountain of Praise pastor Mia K. Wright told mourners. “We may weep, we may mourn, but we will find hope.”
Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton recounted the parable of the good Samaritan, as passersby ignored a wounded man on the road.
Sharpton compared that biblical tale to African Americans who died in confrontations with police and other authorities.
“The problem is too many of you have been walking by the Eric Garners, been walking by the Trayvon Martins, been walking by the Arberys,” Sharpton said.
But Floyd’s death has finally sparked an American outcry that can finally bring change, Sharpton said.
“Been walking by and now we stopped for George Floyd,” he told mourners. “All of you are here because we’re not passersby.“
Sharpton’s eulogy capped a four-hour-plus funeral carried live by cable news networks.
Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden met privately with Floyd’s family on Monday. He told mourners remotely on Tuesday that Floyd’s death will bring long-overdue justice.
Biden said he’s been thinking about Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gianna.
“I know you have a lot of questions, honey,” Biden said in a statement recorded from his home in Delaware on Tuesday.
“Too many black children have had to ask for generations, ‘Why? Why’s daddy gone?'”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, brought mourners to their feet as she urged them to find strength from Floyd’s passing — and to complete “his assignment,” that “there will never be brutality faced by a man that says ‘I can’t breathe’ and calls out to a mama who loves him so.”
Family members said they were grateful for well-wishers honoring their brother, uncle and nephew, often called “Perry,” his middle name.
“I would like to thank the whole world,” aunt Kathleen McGee said. “But I just want to make this statement: The world knows George Floyd, I know Perry Jr.”
Floyd’s niece told mourners she’ll never forget her uncle’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”
“Hello my name is Brooke Williams, George Floyd’s niece — and I can breathe,” Williams said. “As long as I’m breathing, justice will be served for Perry.”
Music punctuated much of the emotional ceremony, which included recording artist Ne-Yo singing “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye,” an R&B classic originally by Boyz II Men.
And gospel singer Dray Tate delivered a stirring rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” the famed Sam Cooke song that became an anthem of civil rights protests of the 1960s.
As Tate sang, artist Ange Hillz quickly painted a black-and-white portrait of Floyd behind him.
The Minneapolis man’s final resting place will be next to next to his mother, whom Floyd cried out for two weeks ago as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The four Minneapolis officers who confronted Floyd on May 25 have been arrested and charged in connection to his death.
Biden said Floyd’s death must yield justice before America can heal its centuries-old racial divide.
“Now is the time for racial justice. That’s the answer we must give our children when they ask, ‘Why?'” Biden told mourners.
“Because when there’s justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice for America.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s funeral, organizers said just 500 people would be allowed inside the 2,000-seat sanctuary to keep mourners safely apart during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But as the pews began to fill before the service, it became clear that such safeguards would not be possible.
“So much for social distancing today,” a concerned Fountain of Praise pastor Remus E. Wright said on stage.
Wright admonished mounters to keep their masks on and said anyone not with a facial covering would be taken out. Congregants applauded.
“People are not expendable,” he said as a final warning.
Friends and family also gathered for a viewing and service near his birthplace in Raeford, North Carolina, on Saturday, where they demanded that Floyd’s death spur substantive changes in police practices.
Then on Monday, more than 6,000 people braved 90-degree-plus heat to file into Fountain of Praise to honor Floyd.