Minneapolis, United States – Eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence. Eight minutes, 46 seconds of prayer. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, thousands in Minneapolis, Minnesota, stood silently with their heads bowed to remember George Floyd, the unarmed Black man killed by police here last week.
It was the same amount of time that a white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck as he cried out: “I can’t breathe.”
It was an amount of time that has become a rallying cry across the United States against police brutality and violence against Black people.
“That’s a long time,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, who eulogised Floyd on Thursday in Minneapolis.
“There’s no excuse. They had enough time, they had enough time,” he told the gathering.
“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,” he added. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!'”
Thursday’s service was the first of several memorials scheduled before Floyd will be buried in Houston, Texas, where he grew up on Tuesday. A weekend memorial is scheduled in North Carolina, where Floyd was born.
Philonise Floyd told mourners that his brother was like “a general” and people wanted to follow him.
Philonise described George Floyd as a man who made people feel “like the president”. People “wanted to greet him, wanted to have fun with him,” he said.
Philonise spoke alongside other members of George Floyd’s family, each remembering Floyd as a kind and good man. Fridays, civil rights leaders, celebrities and politicians listened closely, at times breaking out in applause for what was being said. Thursday’s event was part memorial, part a call to action to end police violence and the culture that many say has led to the deaths of so many African-Americans and other people of colour at the hands of people.
“What we saw in that video was evil. So America … as we memorialise George Floyd, do not accept evil,” said Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer who is representing the Floyd family.
“Protest against evil. We cannot cooperate with evil. We cannot cooperate with torture,” Crump said.
While the memorial was invite-only, thousands of people gathered not far from the site it was held, listening intently to the service on loudspeakers. One person in the crowd described the eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence as a “powerful” moment.
“I’m not gonna give up, and we’re not gonna give up until this world changes,” said Zenzele Isoke in the park where the public gathered to listen to the service.
“[Floyd’s] spirit is alive in every breath that I draw,” she said. “He’s looking down and he’s with us, so actually we’re closer together now than we’ve ever been.”
Mahlet Aschenaki said Thursday’s event was important so people could start to heal.
“It’s important for us to come together and grieve because we have been out there cause of our anger, and now it’s important to come together in the grieving process,” Aschenaki said. “I think it’s really good for the community to all be here, show their support and overall just be here for his family.”
Floyd’s death, captured on a video seen worldwide, set off mass protests over police and former law enforcement killings of unarmed Black people, including Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta, Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
Sharpton announced he and Floyd’s family will lead a march in Washington, DC, on August 28, the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s original March on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands of people.
“We’re going back to Washington,” Sharpton said. “This is the era to deal with policing and criminal justice.”
Sharpton’s emotive words came a day after prosecutors announced new charges against the four now-fired officers involved in the death.
Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, had his previously announced third-degree murder charge upgraded to second-degree murder. He also faces a second-degree manslaughter charge.
The other three officers face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four are in custody.
The charges were one of the key demands of protesters, who have rallied daily for more than a week in cities across the US. But protesters have vowed to continue marching to demand an end to police violence and more systemic reforms.
“We don’t have a problem denouncing violence,” Sharpton told mourners on Thursday.
“We don’t have a problem denouncing looting … but it seems like some in the criminal justice system have a problem looking at a tape, and knowing there’s probable cause,” he said. “America, this is the time of dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system.”