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Emotional celebration draws thousands for George Floyd viewing, family memorial

Although many in the crowd that gathered for a public viewing in North Carolina did not know George Floyd in life, in his death they saw a brother, a father, a son.

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Gilbert Baez, Bryan Mims
Lena Tillett, WRAL reporters
RAEFORD, N.C. — Long lines of mourners, on foot and in vehicles, backed up traffic along Fayetteville Road in Raeford Saturday, where a public viewing was held for George Floyd. Floyd, whose death in police custody sparked protests nationwide, was born in North Carolina, and his sister lives in Hoke County.

As the hearse arrived bearing Floyd's body around 9 a.m., silence fell, then the assembled crowd chanted his name. Although many in the crowd did not know Floyd in life, in his death they saw a brother, a father, a son.

"I have kids that look like that guy, too. I have people and friends that look like him," said Quavas Hart, a U.S. Army veteran who stood in line to see the casket.

Motorcycles thundered as scores of riders arrived. Vendors sold shirts and masks with a message: "I can't breathe" or "Say his name."

Shantal Covington of Fayetteville said she was moved to attend on behalf of family.

"I have a nephew," she said. "It not only affects me, but I also know that could be one of my loved ones."

Rebecca Santiago of Cameron was one of a sprinkling of white people among a mostly African-American turnout.

"This has turned into such a big thing, but it's still about George Floyd," she said. "He didn't deserve any of this. I wanted to be her to show that this death wasn't in vain. I just felt i needed to be here."

Kelvin Thompson, of Fayetteville, brought his daughter, Riley.

"It's educational for our kids," Thomas said. "Unity is not just in individuals, but in everyone."

Riley called the death of George Floyd and the outrage that followed a reality check.

"We're not only fighting for America as one, but we're fighting for the future," she said.


"Don't let the life of George Floyd be in vain"

A private, family memorial service followed the public viewing, a moving celebration, a tribute to a brother, father and family member who has become a symbol to many. There were tears and songs, dancing, clapping and moments of silent grief.

Mourners heard from Floyd's family and from local and national leaders.

"These images associated with this will affect all of our lives for the rest of our lives," one family member said. "Not only did we lose a family member, but y'all watched at well, and y'all were helpless too."

"Don't let the life of George Floyd be in vain," Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin urged.

Congressman George Butterfield delivered a eulogy, saying, "Your pain is our pain." He promised that House Democrats would propose legislation "to end the pervasiveness of police misconduct.

"To the Floyd family; to America: change is coming because millions of people of good will (of all races) are in the public square demanding change and demanding it now. You should have some degree of comfort knowing that the death of your beloved George Floyd will be the catalyst that will bring much needed reform to our system of criminal justice," Butterfield said.


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