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'He has not died in vain': Thousands gather in Houston to mourn George Floyd before private funeral

The death of George Floyd has triggered protests and anger in the US and beyond.

The casket of George Floyd is removed after a public visitation for Floyd at the Fountain of Praise church in Houston.
The casket of George Floyd is removed after a public visitation for Floyd at the Fountain of Praise church in Houston.
Image: David J. Phillip

THE LAST CHANCE for the public to say goodbye to George Floyd drew thousands of mourners to a church in his home town of Houston.

Under the searing Texas heat at The Fountain of Praise church, 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 Floyd’s body, dressed in a brown suit in an open gold-coloured coffin.

Some knew Floyd in the nearby housing projects where he grew up. Others travelled for hours or drove in from other states.

Those who could not make it made their own tributes. In Los Angeles, a funeral-style procession of cars inched through the city centre as the viewing began in Houston. In Tennessee, residents of Memphis held a moment of silence.

Bracy Burnett approached Floyd’s coffin wearing a homemade denim face mask emblazoned 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.

Floyd’s death on 25 May has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the US by police and the criminal justice system.

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

In Paris, France’s top security official said police would no longer conduct choke holds 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 that would include a nationwide ban on choke holds in a potentially far-reaching legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

george-floyd-memorial-service-in-houston Mourners wearing Floyd T-shirt's wait in line to view the casket of George Floyd. Source: Godofredo A. Vasquez

“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 the church. One man in the line, which had no shade, collapsed as temperatures spiked above 32 degrees and was taken by stretcher to a cooling station in front of the church.

Mourners were required to wear masks over fears of the coronavirus and stood six feet apart as they paused briefly to view the coffin. On a stage behind the casket were two identical murals of Floyd wearing a black cap that read “Houston” and angel wings drawn behind him.

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Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott was among the first to view the coffin and planned to meet privately with the family. He wore a striped gold-and-crimson tie, the colours of Floyd’s Houston high school, where Floyd was an American football player.

“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.

Hours into the viewing, a judge in Minneapolis kept bail at $1 million for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with second-degree murder in Mr Floyd’s death. Chauvin, 44, said almost nothing during the 11-minute hearing while appearing on closed-circuit television from a maximum-security prison.

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