Houston- George Floyd, the African American whose death in police custody roused worldwide protests against racism, was extolled at his funeral by religious and political leaders, family and friends on Tuesday in his hometown of Houston.
“This is a home-going celebration,” Reverend Mia Wright, co-pastor at the Fountain of Praise Church, told mourners.
Banners featured pop art illustrations of Floyd wearing a baseball cap with a halo above it.
American flags lined the streets outside the church. Flowers and bouquets were placed around a photograph of Floyd.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, spoke via a video recording.
“Why in this nation do too many black Americans wake up knowing that they could lose their life in the course of just living their life?” Biden said. “We must not turn away. We cannot leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away from racism.”
After the service, a funeral procession was due to travel about 15 miles (24 km) to Houston Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Pearland, Texas. His body was to travel in a horse-drawn carriage for burial alongside his mother.
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who grew up in the Texas city, died on May 25 after a white police officer in Minneapolis pinned him with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes. A bystander’s video captured the incident in excruciating detail, including his saying “I can’t breathe” and crying out for his mother.
“It was the worst thing I ever could have imagined, watching him going from speaking and breathing to turning blue,” said Godfrey Johnson, 45, as he arrived at the church. Johnson, who wore an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt, attended Floyd’s high school and played football with him.
About 500 people were invited to the funeral, which followed memorial services last week in Minneapolis and Raeford, the North Carolina town where Floyd was born.
Advised to guard against the coronavirus pandemic by wearing masks over their mouths and noses, some mourners and onlookers wore ones that said, “I can’t breathe.”
Family members of other black men killed in confrontations with white men attended.
The mother of Eric Garner, the New York man who died in a police chokehold, was at the church as was the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Georgia man who was shot and killed in February while jogging. Three white men were charged.
Outside the church in hot, humid, 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) temperature, two voter registration tables were set up.
Floyd’s death ignited a wave of protests across the United States and cities in other countries against racism and the systematic mistreatment of black people, reinvigorating the Black Lives Matter movement.
The case also thrust the administration of President Donald Trump into a political crisis. Trump repeatedly threatened to order the military on to the streets to quell protests, which have mostly been peaceful.
As activists and some politicians across the country have called for reducing police budgets and redirecting the money, Trump resisted calls to slash funding, saying 99% of police were “great, great people”.
Derek Chauvin, 44, the policeman who knelt on Floyd’s neck and is charged with second-degree murder, made his first court appearance in Minneapolis by video link on Monday. A judge ordered his bail raised from $1 million to $1.25 million.
Chauvin’s co-defendants, three fellow officers, are accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued a proclamation asking Minnesotans to spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence to mark the start of the funeral.
“The world watched in horror as George Floyd’s humanity was taken away from him,” the proclamation said. “We must do everything in our power to come together to deconstruct generations of systemic racism in our state so that every Minnesotan — Black, Indigenous, Brown, or White — can be safe and thrive.”
The New York Stock Exchange observed 8 minutes 46 seconds of silence for the start of the funeral, the length of time Floyd was pinned down.
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