MINNEAPOLIS: Bail was set at US$1 million on Monday for the Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd as mourners in his hometown of Houston paid their respects to the African American man whose death has sparked massive protests for racial justice in the US and beyond.
In Washington, Democratic lawmakers knelt in silent tribute to Floyd before unveiling a package of police reforms in response to the killing of unarmed black Americans by law enforcement.
The congressional move came a day after the Minneapolis city council voted to dismantle and rebuild the police department in the city where the 46-year-old Floyd died during a May 25 arrest.
Derek Chauvin, the white cop who was filmed pressing his knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, made his first court appearance on Monday.
Chauvin, 44, appeared by video from a Minnesota state prison to face charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The 19-year veteran of the police force could face decades in prison if convicted.
Chauvin did not enter a plea and the Hennepin County District Court judge set his bail at US$1 million with conditions, or US$1.25 million without conditions.
The conditions would require him to surrender his firearms, not work in law enforcement or security in any capacity, and have no contact with Floyd’s family.
Three other Minneapolis policemen appeared in court last week to face a charge of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder for their roles in his arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit US$20 bill.
All four officers have been fired.
‘Bringing us together’
In Houston, where Floyd grew up, thousands of mourners waited patiently in stifling Texas heat outside the Fountain of Praise Church to pay their last respects.
Some made the sign of the cross as they approached Floyd’s caskets. Some took a knee and others bowed their heads in silent prayer.
All of the mourners were required to wear masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s bringing us together as a country,” said Kevin Sherrod, 41, who was accompanied by his wife and two sons aged eight and nine.
“Being here with my boys means a lot,” Sherrod added.
“It is a time in history and they will remember they were part of it.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden flew to Houston on Monday to meet privately with members of Floyd’s family.
“He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe,” said Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family attorney.
“That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”
Floyd is to be buried in Houston on Tuesday next to his mother.
Floyd’s death, the latest of a black man at the hands of police, has unleashed protests for racial justice and against police brutality in cities across the US and around the world.
The Minneapolis city council pledged on Sunday to dismantle and rebuild the police department. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said that while he supported “structural reform”, he was not for abolishing the force entirely.
Other US cities have already begun to embrace reforms – starting with bans on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
‘We hear you’
In Washington, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and two dozen other lawmakers knelt in silence at the US Capitol for the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Chauvin pinned Floyd, with his knee on his neck.
Democrats then unveiled a wide-ranging police reform bill, one of the chief demands of demonstrators who have taken to the streets for the past two weeks in the most sweeping US protests for racial justice since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The bill aims to create “meaningful, structural change that safeguards every Americans’ right to safety and equal justice”, the Democrats said.
The Justice and Policing Act, introduced in both chambers of Congress, would make it easier to prosecute officers for abuse, and rethink how they are recruited and trained.
“Black lives matter. The protests we’ve seen in recent days are an expression of rage and one of despair,” House Democrat Steny Hoyer said.
“Today, Democrats in the House and Senate are saying: ‘We see you, we hear you, we are acting.'”
It is unclear what support the proposed reforms might find in the Republican-controlled Senate – or whether President Donald Trump would sign such legislation into law.
Trump has adopted a tough approach to putting down the protests and he voiced his support for the police at a roundtable on law enforcement at the White House on Monday.
“There’s a reason for less crime. It’s because we have great law enforcement,” he said.
“There won’t be defunding, there won’t be dismantling of our police.”
Trump has accused “Radical Left Democrats” of seeking to “defund the police”, but Democratic leaders did not include any such language in their bill and Biden has also flatly rejected the suggestion.
A CNN poll of registered voters, published on Monday, had Biden with a 14-point lead over Trump – his biggest margin yet in the White House race.