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Crowds gather to celebrate and mourn George Floyd at Minneapolis memorial

Civil rights activists and politicians gathered at the memorial for George Floyd, whose death has sparked protests across the US.

The casket of George Floyd before a memorial service at North Central University in Minneapolis
The casket of George Floyd before a memorial service at North Central University in Minneapolis
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, celebrities and politicians gathered in Minneapolis this evening to pay their respects to George Floyd, the man whose death at the hands of police has sparked protests nationwide and calls for an end to racial injustice.

Mourners wore masks and bumped elbows, rather than hug or shake hands, at the memorial taking place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The memorial at the Frank J Lindquist sanctuary at North Central University was the first service to be held in the next six days across three communities where Floyd was born, grew up and died.

Projected above the pulpit inside the sanctuary was the blue and orange mural that has been painted at the site of a makeshift memorial in the neighbourhood where Floyd pleaded for air on 25 May as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving.

george-floyd-memorial The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at the memorial service for George Floyd. Source: Julio Cortez/AP/Press Association Images

A small band and choir sang the gospel classic Goin’ Up Yonder as mourners gathered.

The Rev Jesse Jackson entered and prayed for several moments over Floyd’s golden casket. Others followed his lead, including Minnesota Sen Amy Klobuchar. They greeted each other and spoke for a few minutes, before heading to their seats.

Others in attendance included US Reps Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Ayana Pressley and Joyce Beatty; rappers TI, with his wife Tiny, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson; comedians Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish; and actress Marsai Martin.

The Rev Al Sharpton was among those who planned to speak, as organisers of the memorials planned to acknowledge the meaning Floyd had in life to his large family and the broader meaning he has assumed in death.

“It would be inadequate if you did not regard the life and love and celebration the family wants,” Sharpton said.

“But it would also be inadequate … if you acted as though we’re at a funeral that happened under natural circumstances.”

“The family is not independent of the community,” he said. “The family wants to see something happen.”

After the first service, Floyd’s body will go to Raeford, North Carolina, the state where he was born 46 years ago, for a two-hour public viewing and private service for the family on Saturday.

Finally, a public viewing will be held Monday in Houston, where he was raised and lived most of his life.

george-floyd-memorial People gather before the memorial service. Source: Julio Cortez/AP/Press Association Images

A 500-person service on Tuesday will take place at The Fountain of Praise church and will include addresses from Sharpton, family attorney Ben Crump, and the Rev Remus E Wright, the family pastor.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, may attend, and other political figures and celebrities are expected as well. A private burial will follow.

Due to coronavirus, Fountain of Praise will be limited to 20% of its capacity and visitors will be required to wear masks.

Floyd’s final journey was designed with intention, Sharpton said. Having left Houston for Minneapolis in 2014 in search of a job and a new life, Floyd will retrace that path.

“They collectively said we need to make the first memorial statement from the city he chose to go to make a living, that ended his life,” he said.

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