HOUSTON - Family members of George Floyd gave tearful eulogies Tuesday in Houston for a 6-foot, 6-inch man often lovingly referred to as a “gentle giant” nicknamed “Big Floyd.”
It was the final funeral service after several days of mourning for a black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and systematic racism.
“I would like to thank the whole world for what it has done for my family,” Floyd’s aunt, Kathleen McGee, told the crowd. “The world knows George Floyd. But I know Perry Jr. He was a pesky little rascal, but we all loved him.”
A painting depicting Floyd with angel wings and a halo was placed on stage next to loved ones as they shared memories of the 46-year-old father and brother, athlete and mentor, and now a force for change.
"I thank God for giving me my own personal Superman," his brother told the crowd through tears.
Floyd's niece Brooke Williams delivered an impassioned speech, in which she called her uncle's death “not just murder, but a hate crime.”
"I'm George Floyd's niece and I can breathe. As long as I'm breathing, justice will be served for Perry," Williams decried from the podium. “Someone said make America great again. But when has America ever been great?”
Williams said her favorite memory of Floyd was when he would pay her to scratch his head “after long days of work,” of which the two even made a song about, she joked.
Hundreds of mourners wearing masks against the coronavirus packed the church a little more than two weeks after Floyd was pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on his neck for several minutes.
Floyd, a bouncer who had lost his job because of the pandemic, was seized by police on May 25 after being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. He was pinned to the pavement for what prosecutors say was 8 minutes, 46 seconds — a number that has since become a rallying cry among protesters.
Bystander video of the encounter, including Floyd's pleas of “I can't breathe” and him calling out for his mother, ignited protests and scattered violence across the U.S. and around the world.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise, told mourners he stopped wearing ties in response to his brother’s plea that he couldn’t breathe in the final moments of his life.
“All I think about is when he was yelling for mama. And I know how mama is. She’s just right there. She had her hands wide open like, ‘come here baby.’ Every mama felt that,” Philonise Floyd told the crowd.
Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, were led into the Fountain of Praise church by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. The private funeral service was paid for by legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather.
Following the funeral, Floyd’s body was to be taken by horse-drawn carriage to a cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he was to be laid to rest next to his mother.
LaTonya Floyd speaks during the funeral service for her brother George Floyd in the chapel at the Fountain of Praise church June 9, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Floyd died May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody, sparking nationwide protests. (Photo by
The mourners also included rapper Trae tha Truth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who brought the crowd to its feet when he announced he will sign an executive order banning chokeholds in the city.
Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a heartfelt message in a recorded video for the service calling for racial justice. At one point, he addressed Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter directly: “Little Gianna, you’re so brave. Daddy is looking down and he’s so proud of you.”
“No child should have to ask questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations — ‘Why, why is daddy gone?’” Biden said. “Now is the time for racial justice. That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”
The funeral came a day after about 6,000 people attended a public memorial, also in Houston, waiting for hours under a baking sun to pay their respects to Floyd, whose body lay in an open gold-colored casket. Over the past six days, memorials for Floyd were also held in Minneapolis, where he lived in recent years, and Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born.
The services have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become part of the debate over race and justice — among them, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
In the past two weeks, amid the furor over Floyd's death, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place: Confederate statues have been toppled, and many cities are debating overhauling, dismantling or cutting funding for police departments. Authorities in some places have barred police from using chokeholds or are otherwise rethinking policies on the use of force.
Four Minneapolis officers were arrested in his death: Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with second-degree murder. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting. All four could get up to 40 years in prison.
“Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that's where he was born at," Floyd's brother, Rodney, told mourners. “But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He's going to change the world.”
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.