MINNEAPOLIS • Prominent civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton has told mourners that Mr George Floyd’s fatal encounter with police and the nationwide protests his death ignited marked a reckoning for America over race and justice, demanding, “Get your knee off our necks”.
Memorial tributes to Mr Floyd on Thursday in Minneapolis, where he was killed on May 25, and in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn, a major flashpoint for demonstrations stirred by his death, came as protesters returned to the streets of several cities for a 10th straight day, including Atlanta, Washington DC, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles.
The gatherings, while boisterous at times, were for the most part orderly, in contrast to events of previous nights that were punctuated by sporadic arson, looting and clashes between protesters and police.
The change in mood reflected a determination voiced by many protesters and organisers in recent days to transform outrage over Mr Floyd’s death into a renewed civil rights movement, seeking reforms to the criminal justice system in the United States.
“This is a very seismic moment, and someday I’m going to have a kid, and he or she or they are going to ask me what I did during the uprising of 2020, during the American spring,” said Ms Nana Mensah, a writer in her 30s from Brooklyn.
In the nation’s capital, hundreds if not thousands assembled for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, many sitting on the ground listening to speakers and chanting, “Say his name – George Floyd”, before an evening thunderstorm dispersed the crowd.
Another group of protesters congregated near the White House, where construction workers had earlier erected concrete barriers and fences around the presidential residence.
Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service inside a university chapel in Minneapolis, Reverend Sharpton said Mr Floyd’s fate – dying at the hands of police, pinned to the ground under the knee of a white officer – symbolised a universal experience for African Americans of police brutality.
“George Floyd should not be among the deceased. He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction,” Reverend Sharpton said. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks’.”
“You changed the world, George,” the 65-year-old Baptist minister said, adding: “We’re going to keep fighting, George.
“We’re going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice.
“It doesn’t matter if you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform you must pay for the crime you commit.”
Reverend Sharpton led mourners in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the amount of time Mr Floyd lay on a Minneapolis street with a knee pressed into his neck.
Mr Floyd’s attorney told mourners he would find justice for the 46-year-old.
“It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd,” said Mr Benjamin Crump, who is representing Mr Floyd’s family. “It was that other pandemic. The pandemic of racism and discrimination.”
In addition to hundreds who gathered inside the North Central University chapel, a crowd of hundreds listened to the service over loudspeakers outside.
The prayer service, which drew comic actors Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, as well as US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, coincided with an outdoor memorial tribute to Mr Floyd in Brooklyn.
The day of remembrance capped more than a week of largely peaceful protests, accompanied by civil unrest that prompted dozens of cities to impose overnight curfews and the mobilisation of the National Guard in several states.
The size of the disturbances seemed to ebb after prosecutors in Minneapolis on Wednesday elevated murder charges against one police officer jailed last week in Mr Floyd’s May 25 death and arrested three others accused of aiding and abetting the first.
On Thursday, the three newly arrested former officers made their first appearance in court and were ordered to remain held on US$750,000 (S$1.04 million) bond each.
Their principal co-defendant, Derek Chauvin, 44, is slated to appear for his bond hearing on Monday. Chauvin is the officer seen in video footage kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck as Mr Floyd gasped for air and groaned, “I can’t breathe”, before passing out.
IN GEORGE’S NAME
It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, referring to the way Mr Floyd died.
CATALYST FOR CHANGE
You changed the world George. We’re going to keep fighting George. We’re going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice.
JUSTICE MUST PREVAIL
It doesn’t matter if you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform you must pay for the crime you commit.
The four officers were dismissed from the Minneapolis police department the day after Mr Floyd died. They face a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
Mr Floyd’s brother, Mr Terrence Floyd, joined the outdoor memorial in Brooklyn where many in the crowd knelt in a symbol of protest and chanted, “No justice, no peace”.
He urged the crowd to continue to seek justice but to avoid violence, saying: “My brother wasn’t about that.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the stage to pledge that Mr Floyd’s death would lead to substantive changes in policing practices in the nation’s largest city. A string of memorial services for Mr Floyd were expected to stretch across six days and three states. A funeral has been planned for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Twitter has disabled US President Donald Trump’s campaign tribute video to Mr George Floyd on its platform, citing a copyright complaint.
The clip, which is a collation of photos and videos of protest marches and instances of violence in the aftermath of Mr Floyd’s death, shows Mr Trump speaking in the background.
Twitter said the video on the President’s campaign account was affected by its copyright policy. “We respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorised representatives,” a representative said.
The three-minute, 45-second video was tweeted by Mr Trump’s campaign on Wednesday. It was uploaded on Mr Trump’s YouTube channel and his campaign’s Facebook page. The clip has more than 1.4 million views on YouTube and Facebook combined.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protests across the US