Tributes pour in at George Floyd memorial as three officers appear in court
Services for African American killed in police custody will stretch across six days and three states
Hundreds of mourners in Minneapolis paid tribute to George Floyd on Thursday, as three of the four officers arrested over his death appeared in court.
It was the first of several memorial services for George Floyd, a man whose death in police custody triggered a wave of nationwide protests on race and justice.
Pictures of the victim’s body in a gold-coloured casket surrounded by white flowers were posted on social media as friends and relatives paid tribute at the service in Minneapolis.
Memorials for Floyd, 46, will stretch across six days and three states, his family's lawyer said.
Services are also planned on Saturday in Hoke County, North Carolina, where his sister lives, and on Monday in Houston, near his home.
A funeral is planned for Tuesday with private services at an undisclosed location.
"It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd," Floyd's family lawyer Benjamin Crump said at Thursday's service.
"It was that other pandemic that we’re far too familiar with in America – that pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd."
Floyd's younger brother Philonise Floyd paid tribute to his sibling, saying his warm and inclusive personality made drug addicts and homeless people "feel like they were president".
"George was like a general," his brother said. "Every day he walked outside he would be lining up people.
"Everyone wanted to greet him and have fun with him. Everybody loved George."
“It’s crazy man, all these people came to see my brother, it’s amazing he touched so many hearts,” said the brother, wearing a dark suit and a badge with a photo of his brother and the words “I can’t breathe” on his lapel.
Floyd’s harrowing death on May 25 has prompted nationwide protests calling for racial justice after a white policemen knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
A video showed him gasping for breath and repeatedly telling the officer that he could not breathe.
Three of the four Minneapolis police officers who arrested Floyd on May 25, for allegedly buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, made their first court appearance on Thursday to face charges of aiding and abetting his murder.
The fourth policeman, former officer Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder, which could carry up to 40 years in prison under US law.
The arrest of all four officers has been a demand of the tens of thousands of protesters who have marched in the streets of dozens of US cities over the past 10 days. Solidarity demonstrations have also occurred in cities around the world, including London and Paris, as crowds gathered to express their anger over Floyd’s death.
Two of three officers accused of aiding and abetting in the death of George Floyd were rookies barely off probation when a more senior white officer ignored the black man’s cries for help and pressed a knee into his neck, defence lawyers said.
Earl Gray said his client, former Officer Thomas Lane, had no choice but to follow the instructions of Derek Chauvin, who has since been charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s May 25 death. Mr Gray called the case against his client “extremely weak.”
A judge set bail at $750,000 apiece for Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, when they made their first appearances in Hennepin County District Court Thursday. Simultaneously, and just blocks away , celebrities, friends and relatives gathered to memorialise Floyd at a Bible college.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired all four officers last week and charged Chauvin — initially with third-degree murder — the following day. But protests that began on the streets of Minneapolis quickly spread across the nation, calling for justice for Floyd and other African Americans who were killed by police.
On Wednesday, the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. If convicted, they potentially face the same penalty as Chauvin: up to 40 years in prison.
Meanwhile, at the memorial only a few blocks away, US civil rights activist and Baptist minister Al Sharpton, 65, led the memorial service at North Central University in Minneapolis. Eight minutes of silence took place at the memorial in memory of Floyd.
The reverend's rousing eulogy referenced the history of slavery and took a jab at Donald Trump's move to question Barack Obama's birthplace because of his race.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks. Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” the Rev Al Sharpton said. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!’”
Thousands of protesters have been arrested after clashes with police.
Some of the protests were marred by rioting and looting in the early days but have been mostly peaceful since then.
“There have been protests all over the world. Some have looted and done other things. None of us condone it - looting and violence,” Rev Al Sharpton said.
“But there is a difference between those calling for peace - and those calling for quiet. Some y’all don’t want peace, you just want quiet. You just want us to suffer in silence.”
US President Donald Trump has rejected criticism of his use of force to break up a peaceful rally in Washington on Monday.
Police used batons and chemical agents to clear protesters from Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, so Mr Trump could visit St John's Church for a photo opportunity after it was damaged by fire during protests.
While condemning the killing of Floyd, he said there were many “bad people” among the protesters and called on governors to “dominate the streets.”
Mr Trump said he was considering invoking the Insurrection Act from 1807, which would allow him to send in the army to quell the protests.
But US Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, said on Wednesday that should be only a "last resort".
Mr Esper's predecessor, former general James Mattis, broke his silence on Wednesday to deliver a biting assessment of the president.
Mr Mattis called Mr Trump "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people, does not even pretend to try".
"Instead, he tries to divide us," he said.
Updated: June 5, 2020 10:37 AM