They were of all races and faiths, young and old, from nearby neighborhoods and neighboring states. They numbered around 5,000 — clergy, families, individuals, groups of friends. They came on foot, by subway, on bikes, walking their dogs. They all had one goal: change.
“The violence has to stop,” said Daniel Spruill, a 23-year-old black man at the memorial held Thursday afternoon for George Floyd in Brooklyn, New York. “The more people they see out here supporting it, the more likely Congress will get something done.”
Kallai Brooks, 36, an African American man from Brooklyn, came to the memorial with his wife and two sons, ages 3 and 8. He said violence against men like him is very much in the front of his mind, especially as a father.
“I don’t want it to happen me, and I definitely don’t want it to happen to me in front of them,” he said referring to his sons. But he is hopeful the current momentum will bring tangible change.
“It’s a different uprising,” Brooks said. “This is everybody being quiet about it, so imagine if they start getting loud.”
University student Rosella Frein-Niles, 21, welcomed the diverse turnout.
“I think everyone — white people, black people, any people in America — can realize that what’s happening is unjust, and it’s our responsibility to show up and stand together in solidarity and unity,” she said. “That’s the only way we can get things done. The officers got arrested for George Floyd. It shows that activism is what changes things.”
Floyd, 46, died in police custody on May 25 in the U.S. city of Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers did not stop him. All four have been charged in his death.
Floyd’s younger brother Terrence lives in Brooklyn, New York. He, along with his family, have been calling for peace and an end to the looting that several cities, including New York, have experienced during more than a week of demonstrations.
“I’m proud of the protests, but I’m not proud of the destruction,” Terrence Floyd twice told the crowd.
In brief remarks to enthusiastic applause, Terrence Floyd said all people need power.
“Power to the people! Power to the people!” he said. “Not just my people, not just your people, not just the people that think they are important. I’m talking about power of the people — all of us!”
“George Floyd represented peace,” the Rev. Kevin McCall told the crowd. “He was a godly man. A gentle giant. We must keep his memory as such.”
New York State Attorney General Letitia James told the crowd that change in this country has always come from the young people, not the politicians.
“To my young warriors and to the families, march until the stagnant and intractable walls of racism come down!” she urged.
Protesters held up signs and repeatedly chanted Floyd’s name, demanding peace and justice. There was music, speeches by politicians — including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was loudly booed — and police, who stayed at a respectful distance on the periphery of the park. At the entrance, they handed out face masks, since New York is only beginning its fragile recovery from a brutal outbreak of COVID-19.
The mayor promised the city would do more to end racism.
“It will not be about words in this city, it will be about change — change in the NYPD (New York Police Department),” de Blasio said. “It will be about change that you can see and believe, because you will see it with your own eyes.”
Following the memorial, hundreds of people peacefully marched across the nearby Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square in lower Manhattan, the site of daily demonstrations.