HOUSTON (AP) — Hundreds of mourners lined up outside a church in George Floyd’s native Houston for a final public viewing Monday as his death two weeks ago at the hands of police continued whipping protesters, leaders and cities around the world into action over demands to address racial injustice and police brutality.
As the doors opened at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston, where Floyd spent most of his life, Floyd was lying in an open gold-colored casket, dressed in a brown suit and blue tie. His body was escorted to what organizers say will be a six-hour public viewing that was expected to draw thousands of mourners.
Mourners, many wearing masks and T-shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe,” stood 6 feet apart as they paused briefly to view the casket. Some made the sign of the cross as they passed by. On the stage behind the casket were two identical murals of Floyd wearing a black cap that read “Houston” and angel wings drawn behind him.
Among those expected to attend the service was Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has called Floyd’s death a “horrific act of police brutality.”
Comill Adams, her husband Lamar Smith and their children, 8-year-old Shermame and 10-year-old Saniyah drove 7 1/2 hours from Oklahoma City to attend the public memorial.
“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.”
Adams and her family wore matching black T-shirts that had “George Floyd 1974-2020” on the front and “I Can’t Breathe” on the back. Adams said she had the shirts made for the memorial.
Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped responding. His death has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans by police and the criminal justice system.
Even as the service began, the impact of his death continued to resonate internationally. 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 a sweeping overhaul of 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.
Before the 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.
A majority of the Minneapolis City Council has vowed to dismantle the city’s 800-member police agency. “It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” City Council President Lisa Bender said Sunday. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”
On Monday, Derek Chauvin — the officer filmed pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck and one of four to be fired from the department in the aftermath of Floyd’s death — is scheduled to make his first court appearance since the charge against him was upgraded to second-degree murder.
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.
Former Vice President Joe Biden planned to travel to Houston to meet with Floyd’s family and will provide a video message for Floyd’s funeral service. Previous memorials have taken place in Minneapolis and Raeford, North Carolina, near where Floyd was born. At the Minneapolis tribute Thursday, those in attendance stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned to the ground under the officer’s knee.
Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week 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 even peaceful demonstrators.
But U.S. protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics.
Several cities have also lifted curfews, including Chicago and New York City, where the governor urged protesters to get tested for the virus 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.