George Floyd gets a national send-off

George Floyd memorial
Steve Floyd/MSR News

“Time is out for empty words and empty promises,” said Reverend Al Sharpton at the nationally televised funeral of George Floyd Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis. Sharpton used the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes 3 from the Bible to suggest that there is a time for everything. 

 “What we are really doing is helping America live up to its creed…  We are helping America be America for all Americans!” said the seemingly ubiquitous civil rights attorney Ben Crump, referring to the protests. Crump gave several remarks and introduced Sharpton.

Philonise Floyd, one of George Floyd’s younger brothers, brought a bit of levity to the ceremony, as he related stories from their childhood. He shared how, even though their family was poor, their mother was very welcoming and even invited other young people into their home.

Philonise told stories of George’s charisma. “Whether someone was homeless or did drugs, he made them feel like they were the president,” Philonise said of his brother, whom they called “Perry,” his middle name. “Everybody wanted to be around him.”

While Sharpton’s words inspired the audience, and the audience heard from family members, the memorial did not have the same feel as the latest funerals of Philando Castile and Jamar Clarke.

The community was left out of what was reported to be a private ceremony, yet included most of the local elected officials including Governor Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Ilhan Omar. 

The chapel was also peppered with celebrities including Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Ludicrous and T.I. who were acknowledged during the service by Sharpton. Former NBA star and childhood friend Stephen Jackson was present, along with several Minnesota Vikings players and Minnesota Gophers football coach P.J Fleck.

National politicians were at hand as well as, including longtime civil rights activists Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Martin Luther King III. 

Consequently, the service, which was held at North Central University in the Elliot Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, had a reserved tone and felt at times more like a media event, despite the best efforts of the musicians and soloists.

When Sharpton asked for a symbolic eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence symbolizing how long fired
Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, it was interrupted by the constant sounds of clicking cameras.

Most of the people who were showing Bro. Floyd love in the streets were left to pay their respects behind barricades or on the corner of 38th & Chicago where he was murdered. The service didn’t have the sober and somber and woeful mood found at most Black funerals, especially those held in Black churches.

Sharpton failed to acknowledge the presence of any of the local politicians or activists. Rev. Jerry McAfee,  pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, gave a scripture reading, and was the only local person involved in the program, which was orchestrated by Sharpton’s New York based National Action Network.

“It didn’t seem like ‘a people’s funeral,’ it came off as a political one, but it didn’t share the politics of the people who had been protesting on the streets,” said Thandisizwe Jackson-Nisan, a local poet who was in attendance.

“Stop using George Floyd as a photo op. This is why mothers don’t trust these movements because so many of them are making a name for themselves,” was the reaction of a mother who had lost her son to police violence on Facebook.

When someone yelled for Sharpton to acknowledge the work of the local NAACP, he responded that this is not a competition. That was undisputed as Sharpton’s NAN organization organized the program and it appeared that he failed to consult with the local Minneapolis community.

Minneapolis is a community with a lot of experience in organizing and putting up spirited and militant yet nonviolent struggles against police violence, having led some of the largest marches in the country over the last few years. To that point, Sharpton did acknowledge that the protests were already happening before he set foot in Minneapolis. “When I got here [Minneapolis protesters] were marching and they kept marching. They didn’t need nobody to organize something. And I really thank them for their work.”

An inspired and emotional crowd that had waited outside of the chapel during the service reminded the national press that Floyd’s death would not be in vain as they chanted, “No justice, no peace; prosecute the police!”

“How long will we fight.?” asked a chant leader, “Til we win!” responded the crowd in a call and response that went on for several minutes. The crowd served notice that they have no intention of letting up the pressure on the system until Floyd’s killers are convicted.