On Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez sat inside the Fountain of Praise church in Houston to witness the private funeral of George Floyd, whose name has been chanted at demonstrations everywhere, rousing the Black Lives Matter movement in protest of police brutality.
This came a day after more than 6,000 people mourned the 46-year-old’s death at his public viewing.
The private ceremony was limited to 500 people, and Gonzalez, D-McAllen, accompanied U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas’ 18th congressional district, which includes most of central Houston, where Floyd grew up.
After being a longtime resident in the city’s historically black Third Ward, Floyd moved to Minneapolis a few years ago, where he died on May 25 while a police officer knelt down on his neck. He was 46.
At the large church, Gonzalez sat two rows away from Floyd’s golden casket.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” the congressman said Tuesday evening. “It was a real moment of reflection for our country.”
Gonzalez said much of what he reflected on was the lessons he wants the country and the Rio Grande Valley, where several protests and demonstrations have been held in support of Black Lives Matter, to learn from Floyd’s death.
“What I hope is that this marks the beginning of a national healing to the divisiveness that we have lived through in the last three years in this country,” he said. “I think that this is the most divisive time I have ever lived in America, since I was born.”
Gonzalez said the key to alleviating the divisiveness is to first address that racism is still a problem in the country. He recalled one line of a preacher during the ceremony: “We’ve come a long way, but we have not come far enough.”
“A lot of people rely on the idea that, ‘Hey, you should have seen the way it was in the ‘50s or ‘60s,’” the congressman said. “Well I think we should be more progressive than that and think of how much more we could improve our society and our country… So, we are not there yet. We have improved, but we are not where we should be.”
Though most only know his name because of how he spent his last few minutes alive, Floyd’s funeral focused on how he spent his life, according to Gonzalez.
“I learned he was just an average person who was put in this place in history, and not intentionally on his part by any mark… he was far from perfect, but clearly what he did certainly did not warrant him losing his life,” he said.
Gonzalez also agrees with the nationwide sentiment that deaths of people of color under police custody are too common.
“This happens way too often, and not enough is said about it,” he said. “But I do believe that this time is different, and I hope we continue to pay attention to the racial divisiveness that we are living, and what we have been living in for a long time. It is nothing new.”
However, Gonzalez stopped short of condemning all police.
“The vast, vast, vast majority of police officers are very good and wellrespected citizens in our community,” he added. “I believe that most police officers stand on the right side of the law, and realize that when you have an offi cer like this on your force, it is bad for everyone … In the future, we will be seeing more training on racial and religious sensitivity, and I think that there is going to be a lot of emphasis on that.”
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, who was unable to attend the funeral, said like many others, he is disturbed by the video of Floyd’s death.
“Clearly George Floyd’s murder was abominable,” Vela, D-Brownsville, said. “I support the movement to ensure that incidents like that never happen again in this country.”
Along with Gonzalez, Vela said he supports Gov. Greg Abbott’s idea of the George Floyd Act — legislation that would aim to prevent police brutality across the state. Though Abbott has raised ideas of the bill, he has not officially proposed it yet.
Vela also noted that though he supports the peaceful protests taking place in the region, he opposes pleas to defund police departments.
“I also do think that the idea that we should defund the police is extreme, and I do not support that approach,” Vela said. “I think that law enforcement is here to protect, and I deal with our local sheriff’s department and police department all the time and I think that efforts to eliminate the notion that we would eliminate police departments is way too far.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, shared a similar sentiment but was different in tone.
“I stand with my fellow Blue Dog Democrats in support of our country’s law enforcement offi cers and personnel, who work every day to ensure our safety,” Cuellar wrote in a statement Tuesday. “I also believe that increased transparency and accountability standards will enhance their ability to serve our communities. Through increased law enforcement oversight and justice against those who violate the authority entrusted to them, our nation will move forward and benefit from the lessons of this tragedy.”
Cuellar also said that while he supports the public’s right to protest, he spoke against “violence and looting.”
“I maintain my support for those who chose to express their first amendment right to protest peacefully in South Texas, DC, and across the country. However, those who have resorted to violence and looting are distinct opportunists whose tactics are distracting from the true purpose of the legitimate, peaceful protests,” Cuellar wrote before expressing criticism of President Trump during this time. “A President’s role is not to use the shameful acts of a few in order to respond with indiscriminate force against all citizens. Our government should defend democracy, not violate or deprive Americans of it.”
Vela said that though he feels the anxiety that much of the community is facing — regarding both the Black Lives Matter movement and the global pandemic — there is cause for optimism.
“I am hopeful because … I know that a majority of people in Congress and our Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, wants to change that,” Vela said. “And not only do we want to change that — not only do we want to change things legislatively to make sure things like incidents that happened to George Floyd don’t happen again — but in a much broader sense, we want the American public to feel good about being American. And what that means is leadership that will help heal the nation and not leadership that wants to tear it apart.”