Open Casket: My 10 Seconds with George Floyd
I posed in front of a mural dedicated to George Floyd in Houston's Third Ward after attending his public viewing Monday afternoon. The wall is also dedicated to other Third Ward residents who have died. Artist: @Donkeeboy
I was one of the thousands of mourners who paid their respects at George Floyd’s final public viewing at The Fountain of Praise, a predominantly Black Houston megachurch Monday afternoon. Many, including myself, stood under the blazing Texas sun for at least two to three hours in lines wrapped around the church for a brief look at Floyd’s open casket.
This was the man whose horrific death was brought to light by a 17-year-old girl who filmed a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds on May 25.
Trailing behind my parents into the dimly lit sanctuary, I hummed along to “I Need You to Survive” by Hezekiah Walker & The Love Fellowship Choir which softly played in the background. Landing on a social distancing floor sticker as I entered the sanctuary, I looked up - stunned - to faintly see his casket open.
Roughly every 10 seconds, I was prompted to the next sticker. With each step, my heart dropped and breath quickened in my bright pink mask. I knew I wasn’t ready to meet Floyd - face to face.
The man lying just ahead of me was responsible for the monumental changes in the last two weeks:
He is the reason why Democrats are expected to bring a policing reform package to the House floor in the coming weeks. Because of Floyd, nine members of the Minneapolis city council vowed to disband the city’s police department. The Houston native ignited protests in all 50 states and the District of Columbia along with global solidarity marches in various countries. His killing also prompted Rev. Al Sharpton to announce a new March on Washington and inspired D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to rename a street less than 500 feet away from the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
Credit: Executive Office Of The Mayor Via AP: Khalid Naji-Allah
With a few more steps, I had the opportunity to put a face to the history unfolding around me. Tears welled into my eyes the closer I approached his golden casket. With a signal from an usher, I scuffled forward and laid my eyes on the man who sparked worldwide outrage, demands for justice and an end to police brutality against Black people.
How can a man who enacted so much change lie so still?
Within those fleeting 10 seconds, I saw him clothed in a brown suit and blue tie - bringing to memory the stories of Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and the plethora of known and unknown premature Black deaths at the hands of police.
As my eyes traveled to Floyd’s face, his stoic demeanor accentuated centuries of racial injustice and inequality Black people have faced since 1619. His lifeless body sent me through a reel of the stories heard, footage seen and books read of Kalief Browder, Kendrick Johnson, Latasha Harlins, the Watts Riots in 1965, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Chicago’s Red Summer, and the Tulsa Race Massacre. I was overwhelmed.
Was Floyd’s life worth an alleged counterfeit $20 bill? Did he really deserve to die over $20?
The historical and continuous mistreatment of Black people are a human rights violation. A violation that’s only been recently condemned due to camera phones which increasingly expose the upsurge of unwarranted murders. Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot Feb. 23 in a neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia. The video of his killing leaked May 5. The father and son charged with his murder were arrested May 7. Why did it take national outrage, a leaked viral video and a three-month delay for any arrests or charges?
Glossing over the two identical murals of Floyd drawn as an angel behind the casket, I couldn’t help but think of the injustice Black people face in life and death when there are no cameras around.
Shortly before I was ushered away, I took one last glance at Floyd and saw a petite 22-year-old girl with pink glasses and a tiny nose stud. It was me. I saw myself in that gold-plated casket and asked, “How can I prevent this from happening to me?” I exited the sanctuary, crying into my mother’s arms, with no answer.
Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a final eulogy during Floyd’s private televised funeral at The Fountain of Praise on Tuesday saying, “God took an ordinary brother from the Third Ward, from the housing projects...and made him the cornerstone of a movement that's going to change the whole wide world.”
Floyd unwillingly died as a martyr for racial equality and social justice. Two weeks ago, the general public never heard of the name George Floyd but in death, the 46-year-old became a catalyst for change and a rallying cry in a matter of days. But he shouldn’t have. At least not like this. When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem to stand against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016, I didn’t know the exact same stance would kill a man and lead me to his public viewing in my hometown four years later.
As Floyd took his final breaths when Derek Chauvin finally raised his knee after nearly nine minutes, neither knew the impact this incident would have. Neither knew their interaction would spark protests in almost every cultural hub worldwide and trickle down to rural American cities.
When the video surfaced of Floyd’s life being pressed out of his body on Memorial Day, I didn’t know I would soon come face to face with the man who unknowingly changed history.
May Floyd and his mother rest in peace.