Caption: Bridgett Floyd is emotional during service for her brother. (Ken MacDonald photos)
By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Grief, gospel, demands for justice and acknowledgement of an historic moment not only for Hoke County but for America, characterized a public viewing and family memorial held here Saturday for George Floyd. “Perry Jr. is what they called him,” the Rev. Dr. Christopher Stackhouse said.
Thousands of people walked single-file through the lobby of Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters to pay their respects to Floyd, whose body was on view in a gold coffin covered in a blanket of red roses. Visitors, most wearing face coverings in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, waited in long lines in 90-degree heat to see the man whose death relit “a fire of civil rights” in the United States, Stackhouse said.
In a day filled with prayer and worldwide protests, before a televised audience of millions Stackhouse preached a thunderous eulogy for Floyd that laid bare in unflinching words the pain and frustration many black Americans feel in the wake of Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“What do you post? What do you tweet? What do you say to prove your own humanity to people?” Stackhouse said.
Although companies including Walmart and CVS boarded up windows and shut down their Raeford stores for the day, the events held in Hoke County were peaceful and closely aided by Hoke County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Raeford police and North Carolina Highway Patrol Troopers. Volunteers from Rockfish Church helped with overflow parking, and firefighters helped with traffic control as lines of vehicles backed up on U.S. 401.
Elected officials with ties to the Hoke and Cumberland County area came together in support of the Floyd family. Floyd was born in Fayetteville, and his sister lives in Hoke County.
The memorial in Hoke County was the second of three services honoring Floyd. The first took place in Minneapolis, and the third took place Monday in the city of Houston.
Several Hoke County commissioners and Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin worked with the family to organize the viewing and service. Buie Funeral Home in Raeford assisted the Floyd family with the arrangements.
Commission Vice Chairman Harry Southerland moved among the guests outside and greeted attendees as they came to the viewing, held from about 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
“It’s historic, it’s really amazing to be a part of this right here. I was telling someone yesterday, George Floyd’s body no longer just belongs to the family, his body and his spirit and his legacy belong to the world, because this is changing,” Southerland said. “This is monumental, and I’m so glad that Hoke County could be a part of it.”
Commissioner Allen Thomas said what he saw at the viewing was “overwhelming.” Hoke County showed the world how to handle such a major event, he said.
“What’s going on here is a worldwide thing, and I am so proud of everyone who played a major part in putting this together,” the commissioner said. “The Floyd family, I met with them at the funeral home this morning. They are very impressed with the coordination and the love and care that the people in our community have shown them. We hope that this tragic loss is not the end, but just the beginning of starting a discussion in this country that will change the way we do things.”
Commission Chairman James Leach said in remarks at the memorial that Hoke’s local government stands with the Floyd family “100 percent, all the way.”
“It’s been a long night for you, and we are praying for you, but morning will come,” Leach said. “We’re praying for you, night and day, and we pray that we’ll see our brother’s face in peace.”
Horseback riders and motorcycle groups both rode through the parking lot of the building, and briefly closed down U.S. 401 in both directions in a demonstration. A small group of protestors held signs and chanted at the driveway entrance, with countless drivers passing by honking their horns in support.
From Hoke County Commissioner Tony Hunt and Lumbee Tribe Chairman Harvey Godwin presenting a resolution of the Tribe standing in solidarity with black communities, to Congressmen G.K. Butterfield announcing federal legislation in development meant to curb police violence, movement for change was prevalent during the memorial.
Butterfield extended condolences to the family on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the members of the House Democratic Caucus.
“Friends, this is a moment in history. We’ve seen images on the television screen over the last few days that clearly demonstrate that American is grieving. Not just black America. America is grieving. Not a single person has stepped forward and said that eight minutes and 46 seconds was justified. It was a police murder by any definition,” Butterfield said.
Democratic lawmakers planned to unveil the proposed legislation Monday, and hold a judiciary meeting Wednesday to move the bill toward a vote before the end of June, Butterfield said.
Congressman Richard Hudson offered condolences to the family, and said that he’s seen the country “united in outrage” over Floyd’s death.
“Two weeks ago, we lost one of our own. George Floyd was our neighbor. As a Christian, I know George Floyd was my brother. While Houston and Minneapolis became his hometowns, George’s story began right here in our community,” Hudson said.
Hudson called for Republicans to be part of finding solutions, and acknowledged the fear many black Americans feel for their loved ones being threatened by police violence.
“We know that our community and our nation are hurting, and also acknowledge the overwhelming grief felt today by the family. We know that we can’t bring George back. However, we can make sure that justice is served, and that the life and the memory of George Floyd can inspire us to be better each and every day,” Hudson said. “We can listen, we can learn, and we can heal. But more importantly, together, we can act.”
Jeremy Collins, representing North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, said Floyd’s death woke people up.
“Some death is not about dying. Some death is about waking all of us up. I will submit to you that this brother has done just that, in his living and in his dying he has pleased God, and he has woke all of us up,” Collins said.
<02>Sheriff Peterkin to law enforcement: “Take out the trash”
<01>Peterkin, in remarks at the memorial, addressed racial inequality in the justice system from his perspective as a black man who has served in law enforcement for more than 30 years.
“I’m going to keep it real. If there were four brothers that threw a police officer on the ground and one of them put their knee in that officer’s neck, and killed him under video while the other three stood around and flexed, there would have been a national manhunt for all four of them, and they would have been arrested and charged with murder immediately,” Peterkin said.
The sheriff called on citizens to listen to young people protesting for change, and for law enforcement agencies everywhere to “take out the trash.”
“There’s a lot of good police officers in this world, all over this world. We couldn’t have done this today if we didn’t have them. But we can’t afford to have one or two percent doing the mess that we’re doing right now. We walk around with all this power, and there needs to be some house cleaning. I didn’t say spring-cleaning, spring-cleaning is when you’re dusting and spraying. You need to take out the trash,” he said. “Enough is enough. I’m telling law enforcement all over the world, if you see that mess, get it out of your house. These young people are not playing.”
“I’m saying this to all the law enforcement all over the world who can hear me…if you can’t say these six words, I don’t care how much you march with the groups and get on your knees to play with the children, it don’t mean nothing if you can’t say these six words: ‘We are part of the problem.’…We as law enforcement officers don’t have the authority to bully, push people around, and kill them because we have on a badge and gun.”
<02>“His name was George Floyd”
<01>In the eulogy, Stackhouse, pastor of Lewis Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, spoke of his own eight-year-old son learning of the video that recorded in brutal clarity now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while arresting him over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.
As caught on camera on a public street, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd, in handcuffs, said he couldn’t breathe, asked the officer not to kill him, called out for his mother, and died. An independent autopsy determined his death was a homicide.
“I saw George Floyd, Perry Jr. what they called him. I saw him die. My son saw him die. His family had to watch him die,” Stackhouse said.
Chauvin was arrested and has since been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers who stood nearby and did not intervene were also arrested and charged in connection with Floyd’s death.
Stackhouse joined Peterkin in saying, “Enough is enough.”
“Our children will not be the next hash tag. Our children will not be the next face that somebody changes on their social media profile,” he said.
Protesters, politicians and pastors alike in recent weeks have spoken the names of black Americans killed by police: just a few among them Breonna Taylor, killed in her own home by police executing a “no-knock” warrant, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot to death by police at a Cleveland park as he held a toy gun. It’s happened repeatedly, to the point many black Americans don’t expect to see real change or justice done, Stackhouse said.
“Even though we were outraged and upset, we began to think to ourselves, this was just like everything else and nothing is going to happen,” he said.
But then, the pastor said, the usual conversations changed.
“Where we would normally end those conversations in black America, where we would normally begin to turn our emotions off, where we would normally try to save ourselves from the heartache of hoping that change and justice could come, that day we didn’t turn our emotions off. That day was different,” Stackhouse said. “What was so different about that day? His name was George Floyd.
“…That day, those conversations in black America did not end the same. We didn’t end them with the same despair, because on that day, a fire of civil rights was relit in this nation. It began to burn within the hearts and souls of every black American, whether we were in the country, whether we were in cities, whether we were on the east coast or west coast, something in our nation began to happen. We began to sing, lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring.
“We said, if I have to scream it from the valley, if I have to yell it from the mountaintop, if I have to march in the streets, if I have to protest, something’s got to change. Because something was different about that day. What was so different? His name was George Floyd. Perry Jr. what they called him.”
Floyd’s death and the protests that followed sparked a wave of institutions, companies and governments speaking out against police violence and systemic racism. In just a few examples Stackhouse gave, the American Academy of Pediatrics deemed racism a public health issue. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company issued a statement calling for dismantling white supremacy. The state of Ohio announced it wanted to declare racism a statewide emergency. Singer Taylor Swift tweeted to her millions of Twitter followers to stop letting racism rule America.
“Even Taylor Swift came through,” Stackhouse said.
As video captured Floyd’s death, it continues to capture the scenes that follow in response.
In Washington, D.C., and in Raleigh, city officials allowed artists to paint giant messages on the streets, saying “Black Lives Matter” and “End Racism Now.” In Seattle, cameras caught a crowd of protestors advancing against police dressed in riot gear. The protesters chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” as the officers backed away.
Property damage and looting occurred during protests in Cumberland County, spurring Hoke County leaders to put a temporary curfew in place. A video showed a person setting fire to the Fayetteville Markethouse, a former site of slave auctions. Fayetteville police have announced multiple arrests in connection with the alleged looting.
Instances of police violence against protesters were also caught on video. In Buffalo, New York, video showed two Buffalo police officers shoving a 75-year-old demonstrator to the ground, where he lay with blood pooling from a head wound. Both officers were suspended and are now facing charges.
The furor and fervor weren’t only happening in the United States. Protests continued this week in major cities around the world, from Hong Kong to London.
The same weekend that Floyd’s family, dressed in white, gathered in Hoke County to worship and grieve, protesters in Bristol, England used ropes to tear down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston. Videos showed protesters jumping on the fallen statue and kneeling on its neck, before the crowd rolled the statue to the river and threw it in.
Sunday night, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced they intend to defund and dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.
Something was different about the day George Floyd died, Stackhouse repeated.
“It’s off in the distance. It’s small but it’s moving this way. I see it,” he said. “I see white evangelicals who are usually silent during racist times beginning to speak up against the hate of racism. I see God’s hand moving this way. I looked and I saw protests had started, and when the cameras zoomed in, I saw there were as many white faces and as many Hispanic faces and there were black faces, we were all coming together in unity for humanity, and I looked and I saw God’s hand moving this way. I looked, Floyd family, and they arrested not just one of the officers, but they arrested all four officers that took George Floyd’s life. I looked and I saw God’s hand coming this way. I saw police taking a knee. I saw a sheriff calling out other sheriffs. I saw the military take off their riot gear and walk with people. I saw God’s hand coming this way.”
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