News Thousands attend George Floyd memorial in Houston

Thousands attend George Floyd memorial in Houston

Mourners wait to visit the casket of George Floyd during a public visitation at the Fountain of Praise church on Monday local time. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Thousands of mourners have braved sweltering heat 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 US police.

American flags fluttered along the route to the Fountain of Praise church in Houston, where Mr 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 the church in two parallel lines, some people bowed their heads, others made the sign of the cross or raised a fist, as they reached Mr Floyd’s open casket.

Fire officials said several people, apparently overcome by temperatures up to 34 degrees 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 Mr Floyd’s death was captured by an onlooker’s video. As a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Mr 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 $US1 million to $US1.25 million ($A1.78 million).

Mr Chauvin’s three co-defendants, accused of aiding and abetting Mr Floyd’s murder, were previously ordered held on $US750,000 ($1.5 million) bond each.

Mr Floyd’s dying words became a rallying cry for an outpouring of rage that crossed racial and other social boundaries in the US and abroad.

A candle light vigil to honour George Floyd in Houston on Monday. Photo: AAP

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 November 3 presidential election.

Protests in many US 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.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met Mr 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,” Mr Crump said of Mr Biden’s private meeting. “That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”

Mr Floyd was due to be buried on Tuesday (local time).

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 defunded or abolished, as some activists have demanded. But politicians called for spending priorities to change.