HOUSTON — The last chance for the public to say goodbye to George Floyd drew thousands of mourners Monday to a church in Houston where he grew up, as his death two weeks ago continues to stoke protests in America and beyond over racial injustice, and spurred France to abruptly halt the use of police choke holds.
Reflecting the weight of the moment, the service drew the families of black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared in America’s conversation over race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
“It just hurts,” said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside The Fountain of Praise church. “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.”
Under a blazing Texas sun, mourners wearing T-shirts with Floyd’s picture or the words “I Can’t Breathe” — the phrase he said repeatedly while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer — waited for hours to pay their respects as Floyd’s body, dressed in a brown suit, lay in an open gold-colored casket. Some sang “Lean on Me” and Houston’s police chief bumped fists and embraced others in line. Funeral home spokeswoman La’Torria Lemon said at least 6,000 attended the service.
Some knew Floyd in the nearby housing projects where he grew up. Others travelled hours or drove in from other states. Those who couldn’t make it whipped up their own tributes: In Los Angeles, a funeral-style procession of cars inched through downtown as the viewing began in Houston. In Tennessee, residents of Memphis held a moment of silence.
Bracy Burnett approached Floyd’s casket wearing a homemade denim face mask scrawled with “8:46? — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd, who was black, was pinned to the ground under a white officer’s knee before he died.
“All black people are not criminals. All white people are not racists. All cops are not bad. And ignorance comes in all colours. That’s what I thought about when I viewed the body,” Burnett, 66, said.
Floyd’s death on May 25 has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system.
Hours into the viewing, a judge in Minneapolis kept bail at $1 million for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death. Chauvin, 44, said almost nothing during the 11-minute hearing while appearing on closed-circuit television from a maximum-security prison.
Two weeks after Floyd’s death, the impact continued to resonate at home and abroad.
In Paris, France’s top security official said police would no longer permit chokeholds that have been blamed for multiple cases of asphyxiation and have come under renewed criticism after Floyd’s death.
In Portland, Oregon, the city’s police chief resigned Monday, just six months into her job, amid criticism of her department’s handling of protests in Oregon’s largest city. An African American lieutenant on the force replaced her. The shakeup came as police have been sharply criticized for using what has been called inappropriate force against some protesters as huge demonstrations continue in Portland.
“With this happening to him, it’s going to make a difference in the world,” said Pam Robinson, who grew up with Floyd and handed out bottled water to mourners waiting outside the church in Houston. The punishing heat spiked above 90 degrees and got to dozens in line, including one person who was taken to a hospital. Dozens more were helped to a cooling tent.
Comill Adams said she drove more than seven hours from Oklahoma City with her family, including two children ages 8 and 10. They wore matching black T-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” on the back — shirts she made up specially for the memorial.
“We had been watching the protests on TV. We’ve been at home feeling outraged. At times it brought us to tears,” Adams said. “The fact this one is causing change, we had to come be a part of it.”
Mourners were required to wear masks over fears of the coronavirus and stood 6 feet apart as they paused briefly to view the casket. On a stage behind the casket two identical murals showed Floyd wearing a black cap that read “Houston” and angel wings drawn behind him.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among the first to view the casket, wearing a striped gold-and-crimson tie, the colours of Floyd’s Houston high school, where Floyd was a standout football player.
“George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas responds to this tragedy,” Abbott said.
Floyd’s death has spurred calls for change nationwide.
The Minneapolis City Council has vowed to dismantle the city’s 800-member police agency. And in Washington, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall before proposing legislative changes in policing oversight, reading Floyd’s name and those of others killed during police interactions and kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality.
Besides banning police chokeholds, the Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police and create a national database of excessive-force incidents, according to an early draft.
Meanwhile, officials nationwide are already taking steps to outlaw chokeholds: California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s police training program to stop teaching them and Denver police announced Sunday they were banning them, effective immediately. In New York, the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation that bans police chokeholds, guarantees the right to record police activity and collects more data on deaths in custody.
Floyd’s funeral will be Tuesday, followed by burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he will be laid to rest next to his mother, Larcenia Floyd.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden met with Floyd’s family Monday, according to a photo posted on Twitter by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Biden will provide a video message for Floyd’s funeral service. Previous memorials have taken place in Minneapolis and Raeford, North Carolina, near where Floyd was born.
“Listening to one another is what will begin to heal America. That’s just what Vice-President Biden did with the family of George Floyd for more than an hour. He listened, he heard their pain and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family,” said Ben Crump, the attorney for the Floyd family.
Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country, according to reports tracked by The Associated Press.
But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics.
Several cities have lifted curfews, including Chicago and New York City, where the governor urged protesters to get tested for the coronavirus as concerns have been raised that demonstrations could lead to an increase in virus cases.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, Marina Villeneuve in Albany, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta, contributed to this report.
Juan A. Lozano And Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press