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'Get your knee off our necks,' activist Al Sharpton tells George Floyd memorial

The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at a memorial service for George Floyd at North Central University in Minneapolis. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP

The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at a memorial service for George Floyd at North Central University in Minneapolis. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP

Published Jun 5, 2020


Minneapolis - Prominent civil rights

activist the Rev. Al Sharpton told mourners on Thursday George

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Floyd's fatal encounter with police and the nationwide protests

his death ignited marked a reckoning for America over race and

justice, demanding, "Get your knee off our necks."

Memorial tributes to Floyd in Minneapolis, where he was

killed on May 25, and in New York City's borough of Brooklyn, a

major flashpoint for demonstrations stirred by his death, came

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as protesters returned to the streets of several U.S. cities for

a 10th straight day, including Atlanta, Washington D.C., Denver,

Detroit and Los Angeles.

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The gatherings, while boisterous at times, were for the most

part orderly, in contrast to several previous nights punctuated

by sporadic arson, looting and clashes between protesters and

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The change in mood reflected a determination voiced by many

protesters and organizers in recent days to transform outrage

over Floyd's death into a renewed civil rights movement, seeking

reforms to America's criminal justice system.

"This is a very seismic moment, and someday I'm going to

have a kid, and he or she or they are going to ask me what I did

during the uprising of 2020, during the American spring," said

Nana Mensah, a writer in her 30s from Brooklyn.

Protesters take a knee on Flatbush Avenue in front of New York City police officers during a solidarity rally for George Floyd in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Picture: Frank Franklin II/AP

She held a sign that read: "You're lucky we just want

equality and not revenge."

In the nation's capital, hundreds if not thousands assembled

for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, many sitting on the ground

listening to speakers and chanting, "Say his name - George

Floyd," before an evening thunderstorm dispersed the crowd.

Another group of protesters congregated near the White

House, where construction workers erected concrete barriers and

fences around the presidential residence.

Two Buffalo, New York, police officers were suspended after

a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground as

he approached police lines. The man was taken to hospital where

he was in a stable but serious condition.

George Floyd's casket is carried to a hearse after a memorial service for Floyd at North Central University in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Picture: Bebeto Matthew/AP


Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service inside a

university chapel in Minneapolis, Sharpton said Floyd's fate -

dying at the hands of police, pinned to the ground under the

knee of a white officer - symbolized a universal experience of

police brutality for African Americans.

"George Floyd should not be among the deceased. He did not

die of common health conditions. He died of a common American

criminal justice malfunction," Sharpton said. "It's time for us

to stand up in George's name and say, 'Get your knee off our


Sharpton led mourners in eight minutes and 46 seconds of

silence, the amount of time Floyd lay on a Minneapolis street

with a knee pressed into his neck.

George Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd, far right, and cousin Shareeduh Tate, second from right, share their memories of Floyd at a memorial service at North Central University. Picture: Bebeto Matthews/AP

In addition to hundreds who gathered inside the North

Central University chapel, a crowd of hundreds listened to the

service over loudspeakers outside.

One was Zsa-Vona Williams, 36, who knew Floyd from his days

working at the homeless shelter where she once lived, recalling

him as a caring, friendly soul.

"He gave to and fed a lot of people. He was a gentle,

peaceful person," Williams said.

The prayer service, which drew comic actors Kevin Hart and

Tiffany Haddish as well as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of

Minnesota, coincided with a separate outdoor memorial tribute to

Floyd in Brooklyn.

Justin Diamond, centre, the fiancé of George Floyd reacts after a memorial service for Floyd at North Central University in Minneapolis. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP

The day of remembrance capped more than a week of largely

peaceful protests, accompanied by civil unrest that prompted

dozens of cities to impose overnight curfews and the

mobilization of the National Guard in several states.

The size of the disturbances seemed to ebb after prosecutors

in Minneapolis on Wednesday elevated murder charges against one

police officer jailed last week in Floyd's May 25 death and

arrested three others accused of aiding and abetting the first.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey kneels by the casket of George Floyd before a memorial service at North Central University. Picture: Bebeto Matthews/AP


On Thursday, the three newly arrested officers made their

first appearance in court and were ordered to remain held on

$750,000 bond each.

Their principal co-defendant, Derek Chauvin, 44, is slated

to appear for his bond hearing on Monday. Chauvin is the officer

seen in video footage kneeling on Floyd's neck as Floyd gasped

for air and groaned, "I can't breathe," before passing out.

The four former officers, all dismissed from the Minneapolis

police department the day after Floyd died, each faces a maximum

sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious


Floyd, a Houston native who had worked security at

nightclubs, was unarmed when taken into custody outside a corner

market where an employee had reported that a man matching his

description tried to pay for cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.

His brother, Terrence Floyd, joined an outdoor memorial on

Thursday in Brooklyn where many in the crowd knelt in a symbol

of protest and chanted, "No justice, no peace."

He urged the crowd to continue to seek justice but to avoid

violence, saying, "My brother wasn't about that."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took the stage to pledge that

Floyd's death would lead to substantive changes in police

practices in the nation's largest city.

A string of memorial services for Floyd were expected to

stretch across six days and three states. A funeral was planned

for Tuesday.


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