HOUSTON • The family and friends of Mr George Floyd gathered yesterday to bid their final farewell, two weeks after he died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, an event which sparked global protests against racism and calls for reforms of US law enforcement.
The 46-year-old African-American was buried next to his mother after a private memorial service in Houston, Texas, where he lived before moving to Minneapolis.
A day before the funeral, more than 6,000 mourners – many wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus – filed past Mr Floyd’s open coffin at the Fountain of Praise Church.
“I’m glad he got the send-off he deserved,” Mr Marcus Williams, a 46-year-old black resident of Houston, said on Monday. “I want the police killings to stop. I want them to reform the process to achieve justice, and stop the killing.”
Memorial services were earlier held in Minneapolis and North Carolina, where Mr Floyd was born.
He died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during his arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit US $20 bill.
Unarmed and handcuffed, he lay face down in the street, gasping for air and groaning for help before falling silent, footage filmed by a bystander showed.
His death unleashed a surge of protests in the US against racism and the systematic mistreatment of black people, and reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement.
Though mostly peaceful, there have been episodes of arson, looting and clashes with police, whose often heavy-handed tactics have fuelled the rage.
“I’m here to protest the mistreatment of our black bodies. It’s not going to stop unless we keep protesting,” said Ms Erica Corley, 34, one of hundreds attending a gathering in the suburb of Silver Spring in Maryland.
The case was reminiscent of the 2014 killing of another African-American, Mr Eric Garner, who died after being placed by police in a chokehold while under arrest in New York City.
I’m glad he got the send-off he deserved. I want the police killings to stop. I want them to reform the process to achieve justice, and stop the killing.
MR MARCUS WILLIAMS, a 46-year-old black resident of Houston, mourning Mr George Floyd’s death.
He listened, heard their pain and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.
LAWYER BENJAMIN CRUMP, on Mr Joe Biden’s meeting with the family of Mr George Floyd.
The dying words of both men, “I can’t breathe”, have become a rallying cry in protests not only in the US, but also in countries with a history of colonialism and involvement in the slave trade.
In Britain, thousands of people rallied in several cities over the weekend. In Bristol, the statue of Edward Colston, who made a fortune in the 17th century from trading African slaves, was pulled down and dumped in the harbour.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has ordered a review of statues and street names which largely reflect Britain’s empire in the reign of Queen Victoria.
In France, the family of black Frenchman Adama Traore who died in police custody called for more street protests and spurned a government offer of talks. This came after thousands marched in Paris last Saturday.
Mr Traore died in July 2016 after three police officers used their weight to restrain him. No one has been charged so far.
In the US, Mr Floyd’s death has thrust President Donald Trump into a political crisis. He has repeatedly threatened to order the military on to the streets to restore order and has struggled to unite the nation.
The mass demonstrations have also elevated demands for racial justice and police reforms to the top of the political agenda ahead of the Nov 3 presidential election.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is challenging Mr Trump in the election, met Mr Floyd’s relatives for more than an hour in Houston on Monday, according to the family’s lawyer Benjamin Crump.
“He listened, heard their pain and shared in their woe,” Mr Crump said. “That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”
Derek Chauvin, 44, the police officer who knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck, has been charged with second-degree murder and could be jailed for up to 40 years.
The 19-year police veteran made his first court appearance in Minneapolis on Monday by video link. A judge ordered his bail be raised from US$1 million (S$1.4 million) to US$1.25 million.
Three other officers accused of aiding and abetting the murder were previously ordered held on US$750,000 to US$1 million bond each.
All four were dismissed from the police department the day after Mr Floyd’s death.
And in Washington on Monday, Democrats in Congress unveiled legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime and to allow victims of police misconduct and their families to sue law enforcement for damages in civil court, ending a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity.
The Justice in Policing Act proposed by the Democrats would also ban chokeholds and require the use of body cameras by federal law enforcement officers, place new restrictions on the use of lethal force and facilitate independent probes of police departments that show patterns of misconduct.
Some departments have already started taking action. On Monday, the Los Angeles Police Commission said the city’s police department had agreed to an immediate moratorium on training and using of chokeholds.
The legislation does not call for police departments to be de-funded or abolished, as some activists have demanded. But lawmakers have called for spending priorities to change.
But Mr Trump has pledged to maintain funding for police departments. “There’s a reason for less crime. It’s because we have great law enforcement,” he told a roundtable of state, federal and local law enforcement officials on Monday.
Yesterday, he tweeted: “Defunding Police would be good for Robbers & Rapists.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE