By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • After thousands of people waited in 90-degree heat Saturday to participate in a public viewing held in Hoke County for George Floyd, family members held a memorial service that was broadcast live on TV channels for an audience of millions.
Amid gospel songs and worship, guest speakers and elected officials took to the pulpit to say they stand with the Floyd family. From Lumbee Tribe Chairman Harvey Godwin presenting a proclamation 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 service.
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.
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 America 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 plan to unveil the proposed legislation Monday, and hold a judiciary committee 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 called for Republicans to be a part of finding solutions. He 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 also acknowledged many black Americans fear their loved ones will be 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.”
The Hoke County Board of Commissioners joined in the memorial. Several of the board members assisted in planning and coordinating the viewing and memorial.
Commission Chairman James Leach said 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.”
One of the family members who spoke to the attendees said she thanked God for the Floyd family.
“This family is kind, loving. They love everybody. And I’m not one to preach, but I’ve come to tell you today that God is on our side. I don’t know about you out there, but God is on our side. We are bringing back love in the universe,” she said.
“His name was George Floyd”
The Rev. Dr. Christopher Stackhouse of Lewis Chapel Missionary Baptist Church gave a eulogy addressing Floyd’s death, and the ongoing worldwide protests it sparked.
Floyd – “Perry is what they called him” – was “a brother, a son, a father, and it took eight minutes and 46 seconds for him to die in broad daylight with the whole world watching. And although it took eight minutes and 46 seconds for him to die, it took 401 years for the system to put in place that nothing would happen,” Stackhouse said.
While the black community has had this conversation many times before, something about this time is different, the pastor said.
“He’s the reason why we’re here, all because something was different about that day. What was so different about that day? His name was George Floyd,” Stackhouse said.
Floyd was a “gentle giant” who enjoyed banana and mayonnaise sandwiches and was a big fan of LeBron James. And Floyd’s death was not the only event in recent months that has left black America shaken, Stackhouse said.
“We were already dealing with Ahmaud Arbery. We were already shaken by what happened to Breonna Taylor in her own home. We were already shaken by what happened to Christian Cooper, to see a white woman weaponize her whiteness with such ease and efficiency. We were already shaken and then, before we could even come to emotional terms with all of that, here’s Perry Jr., George Floyd…life being taken, life being extinguished,” he said.
But even so, many didn’t expect anything to happen as a result of his death. Until, Stackhouse said, something changed.
“It’s off in the distance. It’s small but it’s moving this way. I see it. 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.”
Sheriff to law enforcement: “Take out the trash”
In comments at the memorial, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin addressed racial inequality in the justice system, speaking as a black sheriff who has been 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 on 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 the 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.
“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.”
When the service ended, a small group of protesters remained alongside the road in front of Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters. As they held signs and chanted, cars driving past on U.S. 401 blew their horns in support.
The memorial in Raeford was the second of three planned services honoring Floyd. The first took place in Minneapolis, and the third is set to take place in the city of Houston.
See further coverage and photos in The News-Journal’s print edition Wednesday.
[Below are updates that were posted live, including video clips from earlier in the day.]
5:45 p.m.: The family memorial for George Floyd concluded after a eulogy from the Rev. Dr. Christopher Stackhouse of Lewis Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. The service featured speakers from the Lumbee Tribe and Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, along with Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Rep. Richard Hudson and a call from Sheriff Hubert Peterkin for law enforcement agencies to “take out the trash.”
2:10 p.m.: Preparations are underway for the start of the memorial service. Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas said he met with the Floyd family this morning at the funeral home.
“They are very impressed with the coordination, and the love and care that the people in our community have shown them,” Thomas said.
See his remarks in the video here:
1:30 p.m.: The crowds have thinned out as the public viewing concluded. George Floyd’s memorial service is set to start at 3 p.m., with multiple TV stations live-streaming it.
12:45 p.m.: Cranston Royal and Jasmine Black of Church of God in Christ Triumph and Deliverance were among the thousands of attendees Saturday. Reformations in policing and police training are necessary, Royal said.
12:20 p.m.: Hoke County Commission Chairman James Leach said the public viewing is going well.
“People are coming with a lot of love in their heart. Some are even shedding tears,” he said. Leach and other county commissioners joined Sheriff Hubert Peterkin in helping to organize the viewing and memorial service.
See the chairman speak about the viewing:
12 p.m.: Horseback riders and people on motorcycles rode through the parking lot of Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters. As temperatures rose, long lines peacefully filed through to view the body of George Floyd. Many wore shirts or carried signs in support. The viewing was open casket.
10:15 a.m.: The public viewing for George Floyd began early.
10 a.m.: Heavy crowds of people had already arrived at the site on U.S. 401 to get in line for the public viewing before the private memorial service.
Pallbearers brought the body of George Floyd in to Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters Saturday morning, with the Rev. Raymond Johnson of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church offering a prayer.
Many sheriff’s deputies and North Carolina Highway Patrol Troopers were on the scene directing traffic. Volunteers at Rockfish Church helped with overflow parking.
The private memorial service was set for 3 p.m.