Thousands mourn Floyd as accused officer appears in court

HOUSTON (AFP) – Thousands of mourners filed past George Floyd’s coffin on Monday ahead of the African-American’s funeral in his native Houston as a court set bail at USD1 million for the white officer charged with his murder in a case that has sparked once-in-a-generation protests against police brutality.

Many well-wishers approaching the open casket to say a last goodbye took a knee or bowed their heads in silent prayer for a man who has become emblematic of America’s latest reckoning with racial injustice.

The six-hour viewing at The Fountain of Praise Church – which drew more than 6,000 people – was the final stage in a series of ceremonies paying tribute to Floyd who was laid to rest yesterday next to his mother in his hometown.

In Washington, Democratic lawmakers knelt in silent tribute to Floyd before unveiling a package of police reforms in response to the killing of unarmed black Americans by law enforcement.

The congressional move came a day after the Minneapolis city council voted to dismantle and rebuild the police department in the city where the 46-year-old Floyd died during a May 25 arrest.

The casket of George Floyd is removed after a public visitation for Floyd in Houston. PHOTO: AP

Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old white officer who was filmed pressing his knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, made his first court appearance on Monday.

The 19-year veteran, who appeared by videolink from prison, faces up to 40 years if convicted on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Chauvin did not enter a plea and the Hennepin County District Court judge set his bail at USD1 million with conditions, or USD1.25 million without.

The conditions would require him to surrender his firearms, not work in law enforcement or security in any capacity, and have no contact with Floyd’s family.

Three other Minneapolis policemen appeared in court last week to face a charge of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder for their roles in his arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit USD20 bill.

All four officers have been fired. In Houston, mourners waited patiently in stifling Texas heat, wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s bringing us together as a country,” said Kevin Sherrod, 41, who was accompanied by his wife and two sons aged eight and nine.

“Being here with my boys means a lot,” Sherrod added. “It is a time in history and they will remember they were part of it.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden flew to Houston on Monday for a private meeting with Floyd’s family.

“He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe,” said Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family attorney. “That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”

Floyd’s death, the latest in a long litany of similar deaths of black men at the hands of police, has unleashed protests for racial justice and against police brutality in the US and beyond. Some US cities have already begun to embrace reforms – starting with bans on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Washington, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and two dozen other lawmakers knelt in silence at the US Capitol for the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Chauvin pinned Floyd, with his knee on his neck.

Democrats then unveiled a wide-ranging police reform bill, one of the chief demands of demonstrators who have taken to the streets for the past two weeks in the most sweeping US protests for racial justice since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Justice in Policing Act, introduced in both chambers of Congress, would make it easier to prosecute officers for abuse, and rethink how they are recruited and trained.