Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Thousands gather for public memorial in George Floyd's hometown

Floyd's death launched an international movement for police reforms

Mourners on Monday gathered for a memorial in the hometown of George Floyd, the black man whose death in police custody launched a US-wide movement for law enforcement reform and racial equality.

On a sweltering summer day in south-west Houston, thousands stood in line for the six-hour memorial, waiting for a turn to pay their respects at the Fountain of Praise Church.

The church can hold 3,000 but to contain the spread of coronavirus, only 15 people were allowed in the church at one time.

Inside, barriers formed a path to Floyd’s gold open casket at the front of the church, where mourners each had a short moment to pay their respects.

They had their temperature checked and wore masks as they entered the church.

Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Mr Floyd’s face, or with the words “I can’t breathe", mourners were told to stand two metres apart.

Comill Adams, her husband Lamar Smith and their children Shermame, 8, and Saniyah, 10, drove nearly eight hours from Oklahoma City to attend the public memorial.

“We had been watching the protests on TV," Ms Adams said. "We’ve been at home feeling outraged.

"At times it brought us to tears. The fact that this one is causing change, we had to come and be a part of it.”

Floyd’s family attended the public memorial, which comes ahead of the private funeral and burial that will be held by the family in Houston on Tuesday.

Rev Al Sharpton, a black civil rights leader, is expected to give the eulogy.

Outside the church, Rev Al Sharpton stood with the relatives of other black men killed by police, including the relatives of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, and Michael Brown.

The Floyd family also met Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, on Monday. Mr Biden is expected to deliver a video message at Tuesday’s funeral but will not attend.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott attended the memorial and vowed to include the Floyd family in coming discussions about police reform and any related legislation.

“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,” Mr Abbott said.

Floyd was killed on May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, even after he stopped responding or pleading for air.

Mr Chauvin faces several criminal charges, including second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

A judge on Monday set bail at $1 million (Dh3.6m) for the former Minneapolis police officer on his second-degree murder charge.

Footage of Floyd’s death, recorded on a mobile phone, inspired international protests and drew new attention to the treatment of black Americans by police and the criminal justice system.

As the Houston memorial service began, the impact of his death continued to resonate internationally.

In Paris, France’s top security official said police would no longer use choke-holds that have been blamed for several cases of asphyxiation.

In Washington, Democrats in Congress proposed a sweeping overhaul of police oversight and procedures in a far-reaching legislative response to the mass protests.

And in Minneapolis, where community activists have long accused the police of entrenched racial discrimination and brutality, most city council members on Sunday said that they favoured disbanding the department entirely.

The councillors have yet to offer concrete plans for what would replace it.

Activists who call for defunding or disbanding police departments say communities could be better served if the money were redistributed to community services, such as social workers, or improved health and educational programmes.

Updated: June 11, 2020 03:32 PM

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