HOUSTON (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners braved sweltering heat on Monday to view the casket of George Floyd, whose death from a police officer kneeling on his neck ignited worldwide protests against mistreatment of African Americans and other minorities by U.S. enforcement.
American flags fluttered along the route to the Fountain of Praise church in Houston, where Floyd grew up, as throngs of mourners wearing face coverings to prevent spread of the coronavirus formed a solemn procession to pay final respects.
Filing through a Houston church in two parallel lines, some people bowed their heads, others made the sign of the cross or raised a fist, as they reached Floyd’s open casket. Fire officials said several people, apparently overcome by temperatures up to 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) while waiting in line, were taken to local hospitals.
“I’m glad he got the send-off he deserved,” Marcus Williams, a 46-year-old black resident of Houston, said outside the church. “I want the police killings to stop. I want them to reform the process to achieve justice, and stop the killing.”
The public viewing came two weeks to the day after Floyd’s death was captured by an onlooker’s video. As a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Floyd, 46, an unarmed black man suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill, died in handcuffs, lying face down on a Minneapolis street, gasping for air and groaning, “I can’t breathe.”
As the public viewing unfolded in Houston, Derek Chauvin, 44, the police officer charged with second-degree murder in the case, made his first court appearance in Minneapolis by video link, with a judge ordering his bail raised from $1 million to $1.25 million.
Chauvin’s three co-defendants, accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder, were previously ordered held on $750,000 bond each.
Floyd’s dying words became a rallying cry for an outpouring of rage that crossed racial and other social boundaries around the United States and abroad.
Demonstrations, unleashed amid anxiety and joblessness from the coronavirus pandemic, invigorated the Black Lives Matter movement, thrusting calls for racial justice and police reforms to the top of America’s political agenda ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Protests in a number of U.S. cities were initially punctuated by episodes of arson, looting and clashes with police, deepening a political crisis for President Donald Trump as he repeatedly threatened to order active-duty military troops into the streets to help restore order.
POLICE ‘DEFUNDING’ STIRS CONTROVERSY
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is challenging the Republican Trump in the Nov. 3 election, met with Floyd’s relatives for more than an hour in Houston on Monday, according to the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump.
“He listened, heard their pain and shared in their woe,” Crump said of Biden’s private meeting. “That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.” Floyd was due to be buried on Tuesday.
In Washington, Democrats in Congress unveiled legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime and to allow victims of police misconduct and their families to sue law enforcement for damages in civil court, ending a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity.
Their 134-page bill also would ban chokeholds and require the use of body cameras by federal law enforcement officers, place new restrictions on the use of lethal force and facilitate independent probes of police departments that show patterns of misconduct.
The legislation does not call for police departments to be de-funded or abolished, as some activists have demanded. But lawmakers called for spending priorities to change.
Trump “is appalled by the defund-the-police movement,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told a media briefing. She said Trump was weighing various proposals in response to Floyd’s death.
Biden opposes the movement to defund police departments as a response to police brutality but supports the “urgent need” for reform, a spokesman for his presidential campaign said on Monday.
Huge weekend crowds gathered across the country and in Europe for some of the largest Black Lives Matter rallies seen since Floyd’s death, as a general mood of calm prevailed over the demonstrations.
The high-spirited atmosphere was marred late on Sunday when a man drove a car into a rally in Seattle and then shot and wounded a demonstrator who confronted him. The suspect, Nikolas Fernandez, was charged on Monday with assault.
Separately, a man described by prosecutors as an admitted member of the Ku Klux Klan and “propagandist for Confederate ideology,” was arrested on suspicion of driving his pickup truck into a rally near Richmond, Virginia, late on Sunday. The suspect, Harry H. Rogers, 36, was charged with assault and battery, malicious wounding and felony vandalism.
Reporting by Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams in Houston, David Morgan and Susan Heavey in Washington, Nathan Layne and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Writing by Paul Simao and Steve Gorman; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman