HOUSTON (Reuters) – Mourners dressed in black, some of them wearing shirts with the words “I can’t breathe” on them, gathered on Tuesday at a Houston church for the funeral of George Floyd, whose death in police custody inspired anti-racism rallies around the world.
The casket of George Floyd is placed in the chapel during a funeral service for Floyd at the Fountain of Praise church, in Houston, Texas, U.S., June 9, 2020. David J. Phillip/Pool via REUTERS
Outside the Fountain of Praise Church, the streets were lined with American flags as those invited to the service filed inside and onlookers stood in quiet respect. Flowers and bouquets were piled around a photograph of Floyd.
After the service, a funeral procession will travel about 15 miles (24 km) to Houston Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Pearland, Texas. His body will arrive at the cemetery 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 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.
Among those arriving at the church were U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus; Cal McNair, chief executive of the Houston Texans professional football team; and one of the Texan players, J.J. Watt. Families of other black men who have been shot by police were invited to attend, according to local news outlet KHOU.
Floyd’s death has unleashed a wave of protests across the United States and cities in other countries against racism and the systematic mistreatment of black people.
The case also thrust President Donald Trump into a political crisis, who had 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”.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate who will challenge Trump in a November election, has said he does not support calls to “defund the police.”
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.
Reporting by Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston; additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller