MINNEAPOLIS — George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
At a memorial for the 46-year-old Minneapolis man, whose manner of death has become a symbol of the brutal, unequal treatment blacks sometimes receive at the hands of police, black leaders called for police and criminal justice reform. They demanded that society remove its collective knee from the necks of black Americans.
"George Floyd should not be among the deceased," said The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network. "He did not die of a common health condition. He died of a common criminal justice malfunction."
Yet the funeral was not without an element of hopefulness. Sharpton said there have been times when he has almost lost hope. But with marches in Floyd's memory encompassing the globe and white marchers outnumbering black ones, Sharpton said he is "more hopeful than ever."
"There is a time and a season, and when I see marchers where in some cases young whites outnumber black marchers, I know this is a different time," Sharpton said.
The memorial service was held Thursday at Frank L. Lindquist Sanctuary at North Central University in Minneapolis and was attended by black leaders and stars in music and entertainment. It was the first of three memorials to be held for Floyd. The second is Saturday in Raeford, N.C. A public viewing will be held Monday in Floyd's hometown of Houston, followed by a memorial on Tuesday, also in Houston.
TV images showed white police officers taking a knee as the hearse carrying Floyd's body headed to the funeral. The service took place a day after a second-degree murder charge was added to the criminal complaint against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and charges were filed for the first against the three other former police officers.
A reckoning of sorts was taking place in other areas of the country. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that sits on Richmond's Monument Avenue. The statue has been the site of protest gatherings since Floyd's death and had been scrawled with graffiti.
Since 2015, 110 Confederate memorials in 22 states, including the District of Columbia, have been removed, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The push for their removal began after a self-described white supremacist, Dylann Roof, shot and killed nine African Americans at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C.
Black leaders at Thursday's funeral said the worldwide focus on Floyd's inhumane treatment and death and the demands for criminal change reform represented the "best opportunity" for change.
"What we endeavor to achieve is equal justice for the United States of America. And George Floyd is the moment that gives us the best opportunity for a long time in reaching that ideal the nation was founded on," said civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
Floyd was killed May 25 after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Floyd was unconscious and showing no signs of life.
But before Floyd's death made him an international figure, family and friends remembered Floyd as an aspiring rapper, an affectionate big brother and a fan of LeBron James.
"I will miss his hugs," said Shareeduh Tate, Floyd's cousin. "He was this great big giant. All the problems that concerned you would go away."
"All these people came to see my brother," Philonise Floyd said. "That's amazing to me that he touched so many people's hearts."
Streams of spectators walked toward the campus Thursday afternoon to listen to a broadcast of the service being played outside. Many clutched signs and brought flowers, standing solemnly as members of Floyd’s family eulogized their late relative.
Given that some of the cases against police officers accused of killing unarmed black Americans in recent years failed to secure a conviction, Shantae Cosby said she hoped the outcome of the case against Chauvin would be different.
“What is it going to take for us to finally get a conviction?” asked Cosby, of Minneapolis. “And then to be just treated like a regular civilian.”
Nick Beison said Wednesday’s arrest and charging of the other three officers with Chauvin the night Floyd, something lawmakers and Floyd’s family had called for, represented “baby steps in the right direction.” But he said even those actions, and the appointment of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to the case, do little to address the justice system’s history of racial bias.
Black inmates still make up a disproportionate part of the U.S. prison population, said Beison, of St. Paul, and Twin Cities police departments have yet to meaningfully diversify their ranks.
“There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done,” he said, his two small children behind him. “We’ve got to change the laws, and the way the police force is policing.”
Following the ceremony, as Floyd's red rose-covered casket was loaded into the hearse, the crowd outside began chanting: "Say his name! George Floyd!"
Less than three miles down Chicago Ave., a different memorial has grown larger in size every day since Floyd died. Piles of flowers for Floyd have multiplied and grown higher, messages painted in rainbow colors splatter across the black top and tables have sprouted up around the block with donated groceries for the community. At the wall of Cup Foods, where artists just days ago began painting a mural of Floyd, visitors take pictures in front of the now completed mural, many with signs of protest in their hands. The community at the corner of 38th and Chicago in less than two weeks has mourned, protested and celebrated together, and multiplied in size until it stretched beyond the block on Thursday.
Forum News Service reporters Matthew Guerry and Sarah Mearhoff contributed to this story.