HOUSTON—Denise Douglas and her daughter Brittany arrived at a strip mall in southeast Houston around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, more than three hours before the first bus would arrive to shuttle them to the church where the body of George Floyd was on view. They held bouquets donated by Mayesh Wholesale Florist and fanned themselves with paper fans that read “Stop Racism Now.”
“We all have the same problem,” said Denise, a 57-year-old African-American nurse, referring to the thousands of people waiting in line to pay Floyd their final respects at a public viewing in the city where he grew up.
“The problem is people aren’t listening, people are taking us for granted. People still don’t see it’s wrong for police to kill people.”
Floyd grew up in Houston’s Third Ward and moved several years ago to Minneapolis, where on May 25 a cop knelt on his neck for nearly 9 agonizing minutes, killing him and unleashing an historic wave of protests, civil unrest, and hints of change.
Houstonians who wanted to see Floyd—who had been a high-school football player and a member of a local rap crew—had to park about a mile away and wait hours in punishing 95-degree heat to take a shuttle bus to the church.
To ensure social distancing, a maximum of 15 mourners were allowed into Fountain of Praise Church at a time, which meant hours on line before they could spend just a few moments in front of the gleaming golden casket, lined in a bright royal blue.
The six-hour-long line was fulled of images of Floyd—on T-shirts, hats, and even the painting carried by one man in line. Many of the cars in the sprawling parking lot had messages on display: “Love You Gentle Giant George Floyd,” read one. “Third Ward,” read another. Volunteers from the nonprofit Texas Organizing Project passed out water and flowers, while other volunteers registered people to vote. One vendor sold George Floyd T-shirts for $20 from the hood of a car. Chants of “George Floyd” and “No Justice No Peace” occasionally broke out.
One woman wore a sign around her neck that said “All The Way From Louisiana.”
Nineteen-year-old Caleb Cobb, a student at Alabama’s Tuskegee University who lives in the Hockley neighborhood of southeast Houston, said he had come to be part of history. He compared the public visitation to one of the landmark moments of the civil rights movement.
“This is like when Emmett Till was murdered and his mother showed his body to the world,” Cobb said. “It shows that nothing much has changed in this country. Hopefully this sparks something.”
After getting off the bus at the Fountain of Praise church, mourners joined another line of several hundred people that snaked around the megachurch’s eponymous water fountain. Dozens of news trucks had set up in the parking lot and reporters gave live updates. Despite the heavy police presence, there was little tension between law enforcement and the mourners, at least early on.
Before mourners entered the church, a man made sure they were wearing masks and asked them to turn off their phones. As they walked through the door, their temperatures were checked, a reminder of the pandemic that has served as the backdrop for the massive protests over Floyd’s killing.
To say viewing the open casket—which was surrounded by Floyd’s family—was a highly emotional experience would be an understatement.
Angelia Pigott and Terena Molo emerged from the church with tears in their eyes. Molo said she attended Jack Yates High School with Floyd and wore a T-shirt with a photograph she said she and Floyd took at the senior prom. “How could they take his life like that?” Pigott asked. “That was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother. I have a son who looks like him. It’s just not fair.”
At the same time Houstonians and others were coming out in huge numbers, Derek Chauvin—the ex-Minneapolis cop charged with his murder—was making his first court appearance. Bail was set at up to $1.25 million in a case that has been marked by extraordinary—and often violent—attempts by police, National Guard, and other federal agents to put down public demands for justice.
But for many of those visiting, the criminal case and nationwide movement were, at least for a moment, secondary to the abject horror of a local man being slain.
Jerry Carroway, 55, was visibly shaken by seeing Floyd’s body. “This should never happen again to anyone, not just to a black person,” he said.