Mourners packed a Houston church to pay tribute to George Floyd at his hometown funeral on Tuesday, the culmination of a long farewell to the 46-year-old African American whose death in custody ignited global protests against police brutality and racism.
Politicians, civil rights activists and celebrities joined the family to share memories of the man they called a “gentle giant” before his gold casket was due to be conveyed by horse-drawn carriage to his final resting place by his mother’s grave.
“We may weep, we may mourn, we’ll be comforted and we will find hope,” the church’s co-pastor Mia Wright said.
Floyd died on May 25 as a white Minneapolis officer pressed a knee into his neck for almost nine minutes, his pleas of “I can’t breathe” becoming a rallying cry for protesters.
His death has come to embody fractured relations between communities of color and police in the US and beyond as tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.
The Fountain of Praise church was the final stage in a series of ceremonies paying tribute to Floyd before he is buried.
In a day that capped more than two weeks of tension around the country, the theme inside the building was one of peace and hope as family members and friends prepared to take the podium to share their grief, with civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton due to deliver the eulogy.
Flowers were piled high outside the entrance to the church, attended by part of his family, before a portrait of Floyd whose open casket was visited by more than 6,000 well-wishers on Monday.
Some 500 guests — all masked due the coronavirus pandemic — filled the church, including actors Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, as well as boxing champion Floyd Mayweather who is reportedly paying all expenses.
– ‘More than a moment’ –
“There is much to be done, but we want the family to know they are not alone,” said local US congressman Al Green as he entered the church.
“This is more than a moment in time, it’s a movement that impacts all of our time.”
Well-wisher Shiara DeLoach, who turned up at dawn to pay her respects, said “everybody with children and a heart” could feel the pain Floyd’s death had caused.
“A lot of changes have to come. Everyone must be treated equal. It is very emotional and heart breaking,” she said.
The funeral comes after the Minneapolis authorities pledged to dismantle and rebuild the police department in the city where Floyd died during an arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old white officer who was filmed pressing his knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck, faces up to 40 years if convicted on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer facing murder charges over the death of George Floyd, did not enter a plea at his first court appearance
His bail was set on Monday at $1 million with conditions, or $1.25 million without.
Three other policemen involved in Floyd’s arrest are charged with aiding and abetting his murder. All four officers have been fired.
The arrest was caught on amateur video played in all corners of the world over the past two weeks.
– Tough line from Trump –
Floyd was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Houston’s predominantly African American Third Ward where he was remembered as a towering high school athlete and good-natured friend.
Demonstrators have taken to the streets for two weeks of the most sweeping US protests for racial justice since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The demonstrations have been marred by several nights of violence that focused attention at home and abroad on police brutality as numerous videos have emerged that allegedly show incidents of heavy-handed policing.
The Democrats have introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress, that they hope will make it easier to prosecute officers for abuse, and rethink how they are recruited and trained.
Some US cities have already begun to embrace reforms — starting with bans on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
But it is unclear what support the reform bill might find in the Republican-controlled Senate — or whether President Donald Trump would sign such legislation into law.
While condemning Floyd’s death, Trump has adopted a tough approach to putting down the protests and he once again voiced his support for police at a roundtable on law enforcement on Monday.
Trump has accused “Radical Left Democrats” of seeking to “defund the police,” but Democratic leaders did not include any such language in their bill.