He is going to change the world': Funeral held for Floyd
HOUSTON-The Associated Press
George Floyd was fondly remembered on June 9 as “Big Floyd” — a father and brother, athlete and neighborhood mentor, and now a catalyst for change — at a funeral for the black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice.
More than 500 mourners wearing masks against the coronavirus packed a Houston 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 what prosecutors said was 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Cellphone video of the encounter, including Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe,” ignited protests and scattered violence across the U.S. and around the world, turning the 46-year-old Floyd — a man who in life was little known beyond the public housing project where he was raised in Houston’s Third Ward — into a worldwide symbol of injustice.
“Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that’s where he was born at,” Floyd’s brother, Rodney, told mourners at the Fountain of Praise church. “But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world.”
The funeral capped six days of mourning for Floyd in three cities: Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born; Houston, where he grew up; and Minneapolis, where he died. The memorials have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become familiar in the debate over race and justice — among them, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
After the service, Floyd’s golden casket was taken by hearse to the cemetery in the Houston suburb of Pearland to be entombed next to his mother, for whom he cried out as he lay dying. A mile from the graveyard, the casket was transferred to a glass-sided carriage drawn by a pair of white horses. A brass band played as his casket was taken inside the mausoleum.
Hundreds of people, some chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd,” gathered along the procession route and outside the cemetery entrance in the mid-90s heat.
“I don’t want to see any black man, any man, but most definitely not a black man sitting on the ground in the hands of bad police,” said Marcus Brooks, 47, who set up a tent with other graduates of Jack Yates High School, Floyd’s alma mater.
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.
Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, took part in the four-hour service. Grammy-winning singer Ne-Yo was among those who sang.
The mourners included actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, J.J. Watt of the NFL’s Houston Texans, 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.
“I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: Why? Why is Daddy gone?” former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said, addressing Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter in a video eulogy played at the service. “Now is the time for racial justice. That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”
Biden made no mention of his opponent in November. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump, who has ignored demands to address racial bias and has called on authorities to crack down hard on lawlessness.
“The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police murder of George Floyd,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. “He challenged China on human rights. But what about the human right of George Floyd?”
Senate confirms first black service chief
In the meantime, the Senate on June 9 unanimously confirmed Gen. Charles Brown Jr. as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, making him the first black officer to lead one of the nation's military services.
Vice President Mike Pence took the unusual step of presiding over the vote, something he usually does to break ties. But Brown's confirmation, 98-0, was not close. Pence called the moment "historic."
The vote came as the Trump administration and the mostly white Senate Republican conference grapple with the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Protests have convulsed the nation alongside the coronavirus pandemic, with racial discrimination being the common thread between them. The vote in Washington overlapped with Floyd's funeral in Houston.
Brown most recently served as the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces. He is a fighter pilot, with more than 2,900 flying hours, including 130 in combat.
He posted a video on social media Friday describing a lifetime of dealing with racial bias and the struggle to fit in to a predominantly white society.
"I'm thinking about my Air Force career where I was often the only African American in my squadron or, as a senior officer, the only African American in the room,'' he said in a raw tone. "I'm thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers and being questioned by another military member: `Are you a pilot?'''
Brown was commissioned in 1984 as a distinguished graduate of the ROTC program at Texas Tech University.
He has served in a variety of positions at the squadron and wing levels, and commanded a fighter squadron and two fighter wings. He also was an F-16 instructor at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.
The military, with African Americans making up a little over 17% of its active-duty ranks, is more racially diverse than the country, which is 13% African American, according to 2019 Census estimates. The Army is the most diverse with more than 21% African Americans, while the Marine Corp is the least, with 10%. Blacks make up about 17% of the Navy and less than 15% of the Air Force.
But there is a much greater racial divide within the active-duty military based on rank.
Nineteen percent of active-duty enlisted troops are black, but they make up only 9% of the officer corps. Of those, there are just 71 who are general or flag officers, wearing one to four stars, including only two who have attained the top four-star rank.