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 spurring 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. 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.
“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 in the searing Texas heat. One man in the line, which had no shade, collapsed as temperatures spiked above 90 degrees and was taken by stretcher to a cooling station set up in front of the church.
The mourners came from near and far: Comill Adams said she drove more than seven hours from Oklahoma City with her family, including two children ages 8 and 10. They wore matching black T-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” on the back — shirts she made up specifically or the 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.”
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 U.S. criminal justice system.
Even as the service began, 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 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, a potentially far-reaching legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
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.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among the first to view the casket and planned to meet privately with the family later. He wore a striped gold and crimson tie, the colors 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.
A majority of the Minneapolis City Council has vowed to dismantle the city’s 800-member police agency. 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.
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 during police interactions. They knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality and violence — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned under a white police officer’s knee before he died.
The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police choke holds, among other changes, according to an early draft. It is the most ambitious change to law enforcement sought by Congress in years.
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.
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 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.