In stifling heat, thousands mourn George Floyd ahead of hometown funeral

A woman struggles to hold back tears as she joins thousands during a candlelight vigil in Houston yesterday. (AP pic)

HOUSTON: George Floyd’s funeral will be held in his native Houston Tuesday after mourners paid their respects to the African American whose death in custody ignited global protests against police brutality and racism.

Thousands of well-wishers filed past Floyd’s coffin in a public viewing Monday as a court set bail at US$1 million for the white officer charged with his murder last month in Minneapolis.

Many made the sign of the cross as they approached the open casket to say a last goodbye, while others took a knee or bowed their heads in silent prayer for a man who has become emblematic of America’s latest reckoning with racial injustice.

The six-hour viewing at The Fountain of Praise church – which drew more than 6,000 people, organisers said – was the final stage in a series of ceremonies paying tribute to Floyd before he is laid to rest next to his mother in his hometown.

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 authorities pledged to dismantle and rebuild the police department in the city where the 46-year-old Floyd died during a May 25 arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit US$20 bill.

Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old white officer who was filmed pressing his knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, made his first court appearance on Monday.

The 19-year veteran, who appeared by videolink from prison, faces up to 40 years if convicted on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

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.

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 policemen involved in Floyd’s arrest appeared in court last week to face a charge of aiding and abetting his murder.

All four officers have been fired.

Bringing us together

In Houston, mourners waited patiently in stifling Texas heat, wearing face masks because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“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 for a private meeting with 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’s death, the latest in a litany of similar deaths of black men at the hands of police, has unleashed protests for racial justice and against police brutality in the US and beyond.

Some 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 to the ground.

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 Justice in 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.

“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.