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Thousands line up for a last chance to pay tribute to George Floyd during Houston visitation

The last chance for the public to say goodbye to George Floyd drew thousands of mourners Monday to a church in his native Houston, as his death two weeks ago continues to stoke protests in the U.S. and beyond over racial injustice.

In a reflection of the weight of the moment, the service drew the families of Black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared in the country’s conversation over race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.

“It just hurts,” said Philonise Floyd, Floyd’s brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside The Fountain of Praise church. “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.”

In the searing Texas heat, mourners wearing T-shirts with Floyd’s picture or the words “I Can’t Breathe” — the phrase he said repeatedly while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer — waited for hours to see his body, dressed in a brown suit in an open, gold-coloured casket. One man in line fainted, while others waiting sang Lean on Me.

Some knew Floyd from the nearby housing projects where he grew up. Others travelled for hours or drove in from other states. Those who couldn’t make it created their own tributes: In Los Angeles, a funeral-style procession of cars inched through downtown as the viewing began in Houston. In Tennessee, residents of Memphis held a moment of silence.

A man wearing a T-shirt with an image of George Floyd as a Yates High School basketball player reacts as he views Floyd’s casket during a public visitation on Monday at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle via The Associated Press, Pool)

Bracy Burnett approached Floyd’s casket wearing a homemade denim face mask scrawled with “8:46” — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd, who was Black, was pinned to the ground under a white officer’s knee before he died.

“All Black people are not criminals. All white people are not racists. All cops are not bad. And ignorance comes in all colours. That’s what I thought about when I viewed the body,” Burnett, 66, said.

Mourners were required to wear masks over fears of the coronavirus and stood six feet apart as they paused briefly to view the casket.

Guests walk in the heat to the visitation in Houston on Monday. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

“With this happening to him, it’s going to make a difference in the world,” said Pam Robinson, who grew up with Floyd in Houston and handed out bottled water to mourners waiting outside.

Comill Adams said she drove more than seven hours from Oklahoma City with her family, including two children ages eight and 10. They wore matching black T-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” on the back — shirts she made up specifically for the memorial.

Guests arrive at the public visitation, some after travelling for hours. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

“We had been watching the protests on TV. We’ve been at home feeling outraged. At times it brought us to tears,” Adams said. “The fact this one is causing change, we had to come be a part of.”

Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death, which a bystander recorded, has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of Black Americans by police and the U.S. criminal justice system.

Two weeks after Floyd’s death, the impact of his death continued to resonate both at home and abroad.

In Paris, France’s top security official said police will no longer conduct chokeholds that have been blamed for multiple cases of asphyxiation and have come under renewed criticism after Floyd’s death.

And in Washington, Democrats in Congress proposed reforms to police oversight and procedures, a potentially far-reaching legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Biden meets Floyd family

Before Floyd’s casket arrived, workers outside the church assembled a large floral arrangement with white roses on one side in the shape of a heart and with the initials “BLM,” for Black Lives Matter, created from blue roses and placed on top of the heart. The other side of the floral arrangement was made up of red roses and appeared to be in the shape of a raised fist.

Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden met with the family of George Floyd before the visitation began. Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, is also expected to provide a video message for Floyd’s funeral service.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among the first to view the casket and also planned to meet privately with the family later. He wore a striped gold and crimson tie, the colours of Floyd’s Houston high school.

“George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas responds to this tragedy,” Abbott said.

Chauvin in court

A majority of the Minneapolis city council has vowed to dismantle the city’s 800-member police agency and replace it with a new model of public safety.

On Monday, a judge on Monday set $1 million US bail for the Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.

Derek Chauvin, 44, said almost nothing during an 11-minute hearing in which he appeared on closed-circuit television from the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights. 

In Washington, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall before proposing legislative changes in policing oversight, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed by police. They kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned under Chauvin’s knee before he died.

The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force cases and ban police chokeholds, among other changes, according to an early draft.

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo stops at the casket. (David J. Phillip, Pool/The Associated Press)

Floyd’s funeral will be Tuesday, followed by burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he will be laid to rest next to his mother, Larcenia Floyd.

Cities imposed curfews as several protests more than a week ago were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country since protests began, according to reports tracked by The Associated Press. Videos have surfaced of officers in riot gear using tear gas or physical force against peaceful demonstrators.

But U.S. protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to abandon their use of aggressive tactics.

People demonstrate as guests arrive at the visitation. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

Several cities have also lifted curfews, including Chicago and New York City, where the governor urged protesters to get tested for the coronavirus and to proceed with caution until they had. Leaders around the country have expressed concern that demonstrations could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases.

Floyd was raised in Houston’s Third Ward and was a well-known former high school football player who rapped with local legend DJ Screw. He moved to Minneapolis several years ago to seek work and a fresh start. His face now appears on a mural in his old neighborhood, and his name was chanted by tens of thousands last week at a protest and march in downtown Houston.

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