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People Gather For George Floyd's Funeral in Houston


George Floyd has become a symbol for racial justice and police reform around the world. Today he was remembered as more than that during an emotional funeral service in the town where he grew up, Houston. Floyd was eulogized as a humble man from the Third Ward who's become a global change agent. NPR's John Burnett is on the line with us from Houston.

Hi, John.


SHAPIRO: What were some of the most memorable moments today?

BURNETT: Well, first, let me paint a picture for you. George Floyd's gold-colored casket rested at the front of the Fountain of Praise Church. The altar was flanked with pictures of him with angel's wings. In the nearly four-hour service, one of the most passionate tributes came from Floyd's niece Brooke Williams (ph).


BROOKE WILLIAMS: That officer showed no remorse while watching my uncle's soul leave his body. He begged and pleaded many times just for you to get up. But you just pushed harder. Why must the system be corrupt and broken? And these laws need to be changed. No more hate crimes, please. Someone said, make America great again. But when has America ever been great?

SHAPIRO: Wow. So George Floyd's niece there saying laws need to be changed. There were lots of lawmakers and elected officials who spoke. Any proposals?

BURNETT: Yeah. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was there, and he announced that he planned to sign an executive order later today that will change policing in America's fourth-largest city.


SYLVESTER TURNER: And what that order will say is that in this city, we will ban chokeholds and strangleholds. In this city, we will require de-escalation.

BURNETT: So now Houston joins the state of California in banning police chokeholds, along with the cities of Minneapolis, Denver and Dallas. We're watching to see if this trend spreads across the country. The moving eulogy was delivered by Reverend Al Sharpton, who said if you're in law enforcement, the law should especially apply to you. You swore to uphold it, and you should know better than to break it. Then Sharpton introduced the loved ones of black men killed in highly publicized shootings, such as the mother of Trayvon Martin and the father of Michael Brown, who were both in the congregation.

SHAPIRO: And I understand former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, sent a video message to the funeral. What did he say?

BURNETT: Well, he met with Floyd's family yesterday in a popular soul food restaurant downtown, and he directed his message to George Floyd's 6-year-old daughter Gianna.


JOE BIDEN: In looking through your eyes, we should also be asking ourselves, why in this nation do too many black Americans wake up knowing that they could lose their life in the course of just living their life?

SHAPIRO: John, what was the mood outside the church among the mourners?

BURNETT: Well, the ones I spoke to, Ari, are decidedly optimistic. They told me, yes, they'd been here before when there's a national outrage over a white cop killing a black man. But they feel like this is different, like George Floyd's death has touched some sort of global nerve. Here's Amber Shaw. She's the host of a local gospel radio show.

AMBER SHAW: In this moment, it is unfortunate that Mr. Floyd died and in the manner in which he did. But this is the eye-opener that we need and that we need our government to be able to see, hey, things need to change. Things must change. And if they don't change, there will be greater consequences later.

BURNETT: Ari, I want to add one thing. You asked me what the high points of the service were. The high point for me was the soaring sacred music that connected all those speakers. I mean, this is the great Southern city that gave us Beyonce and Lightnin' Hopkins and Sippie Wallace. And these rivers of song that are sources of release and strength and inspiration are still flowing in Houston, Texas. Let's listen.


KIM BURRELL: (Singing) Remember, God will - he will take care of you.

BURNETT: That's Pastor Kim Burrell singing with the Houston Ensemble at George Floyd's funeral.

SHAPIRO: And that's NPR's John Burnett reporting from Houston.

Thank you, John.

BURNETT: It's a pleasure, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Burnett
John Burnett is a national correspondent based in Austin, Texas, who has been assigned a new beat for 2022—Polarized America—to explore all facets of our politically and culturally divided nation. Prior to this assignment, Burnett covered immigration, Southwest border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.