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Hundreds Of Mourners Attend Public Viewing For George Floyd In Houston

Lucio Vasquez
Houston Public Media
Mourners attend George Floyd's memorial in Houston on Monday, June 8, 2020.

Hundreds of mourners lined up outside a Houston church Monday to honor George Floyd, a former Houston resident who was killed by police in Minneapolis two weeks ago.

Monday’s memorial, at the Fountain of Praise church in Houston, is a six-hour public viewing held for the former Third Ward resident. Floyd’s funeral will be held Tuesday.

Elected officials — including Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee — were on hand Monday as mourners wrapped around the side of the building, waiting to enter the church and pay their respects. All visitors were required to wear masks and social distance in line, in response to COVID-19 guidelines.

One of the mourners lined up outside, Andrea McLaren, said she was there to support Floyd’s family after the trauama of what she called a “horrific event.” 

She also hoped police would work harder to build good will within the communities they serve. 

“This is nothing new,” she said. “But now that we see that this is happening live and in living color, literally an execution right before our eyes, yeah they need to get out here and be more proactive, and build accountability and trust for the community.”

After viewing the open casket, mourner Charles Roberson said he felt a lot of pain and hurt. But, he added, the diversity of the crowd was heartening.

“When I walked into the church and I actually saw that body laying in that casket, my heart, it took me to that moment that was videoed when he was laying on the ground begging for his mama, begging for his life,” he said. “It’s really painful, and it brought national attention, so what that says to me is that not only our people are tired, but people all across the globe, of all races, they are tired as well.”

Outside the church, Abbott said he had visited Floyd’s family in private, and made a promise to incorporate them in discussions to address police brutality in the Texas legislature.

“This is the most horrific tragedy I’ve ever personally observed,” Abbott said. “George Floyd is going to change the arc and the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas respond to this tragedy.” 

Former Vice President Joe Biden was also in Houston Monday to meet with Floyd’s family. Biden said he would not attend memorials Monday or Tuesday, out of concern his Secret Service detail would create a disruption. He said he would record a video message to be played at the funeral service.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also paid tribute to Floyd Saturday in his Texas Democratic Convention keynote speech.

Floyd died May 25 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest, which was caught on camera. The footage sparked protests across the country, and Chauvin was later charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three officers caught on camera looking on during the incident were also charged with aiding and abetting.

In Houston, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets last week in protest of police brutality, during a rally with George Floyd’s family organized by rappers Trae tha Truth and Bun B. It came on the heels of two other protests across downtown Houston.

Floyd’s death has also galvanized support for police reform across the country.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, the city council there has voted to disband the police, and the school board has already voted to sever ties with the embattled department. In Portland, the superintendent has reversed course on the presence of officers on campus and wants to end the district’s relationship with city police.

Those calls for reform have echoed in Houston, where advocates have already called for Houston Independent School District to disband its police force, prompting HISD to release a statement saying it was examining the proposal.

And on Monday, five of Houston’s black City Council members drafted a letter as “a unified response,” with recommendations for reforming the Houston Police Department. In the letter, council members Jerry Davis, Edward Pollard, Martha Castex-Tatum, Tiffany Thomas, and Carolyn Evans-Shabazz recommended an online dashboard for the public to submit complaints, restructuring the Independent Police Oversight Board to include subpoena authority, public document reporting HPD training.

They’re asking to work on the recommendations with the public safety committee and present an in-depth reform package to the mayor and the public within 90 days. The recommendations largely overlap an HPD budget amendment introdcued by Council member Letitia Plummer.

At a press conference organized by Rev. Al Sharpton, Floyd’s family rmemebered him as a “gentle giant.” Alongside the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, and other black men and women killed, Sharpton said that none of those families asked to be activists. But they were now “the forefront of a new wave,” that would lead to a change in policing.

“We are laying George to rest tomorrow, but the movement will not be going to rest,” Sharpton said. “The movement will not rest until we get justice, for all of these families.”

George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, fondly remembered eating banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, and “having fun in a house full of love.” Floyd, who grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, was a student athlete at Jack Yates High School who received a basketball scholarship from Florida State University. He was the first one in the neighborhood to get a scholarship, and he inspired others, Philonise Floyd said. He later started a music career in Houston under the name Big Floyd, collaborating with the late Texas hip-hop legend DJ Screw.

In an emotional moment, Philonise Floyd broke down into tears remembering not just his brother, but others who were killed at the hands of police, many of whose families were in attendance: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner. 

“We will get justice,” he said. “We will get it. We will not let this door close.”

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, told those in attendance to pay respects to Floyd’s family by continuing to fight for justice. She then repeated her son’s last words — the same words uttered by Floyd in his final moments, caught on video.

“My son said ‘I cant breathe,’ 11 times he said ‘I can’t breathe,'” Carr said. “Floyd, he said I can’t breathe, and he called for his mother. He was calling for all of us mothers. For all of us.” 

One of those mothers was Debra Vernon, who said she was at the memorial in support of Floyd’s family and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Watching the video of Floyd’s death hit too close to him, she said.

“Every time I look at that video, I also see my son, my grandsons, and it’s just so heartbreaking to see someone die in front of you,” she said. “Everything needs to change.”

This story was produced by Houston Pulic Media.