Mourners gathered in the midwestern US city Minneapolis on Thursday for an emotional memorial service for George Floyd, the black man killed by white police officers, as three former officers involved in his killing appeared in court.
Floyd’s death has sparked 10 days of unrest across the United States, as protesters demand an end to police brutality against African-Americans, revealing pent up anger over racism and heavy-handed law enforcement.
Family members, friends, political and religious leaders gathered to pay tribute to Floyd at the first formal memorial service held for him.
“All these people came to see my brother. That’s amazing to me that he touched so many people’s hearts,” Floyd’s brother Philonise said. “Everybody wants justice, we want justice for George, he’s going to get it.”
The body of Floyd, 46, was in a closed coffin on the stage at the event, which was taking place amid a pandemic, with organizers trying to ensure social distancing rules.
The Reverend Al Sharpton, a renowned civil rights leader, delivered a eulogy, noting it was “not a normal funeral.”
“George Floyd should not be among the deceased,” he said. “He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction.”
The reverend said “this is the era to deal with policing,” and called for a “march on Washington” on August 28, the date of a historic civil rights demonstration in 1963.
The president of North Central University, where the service was taking place, announced the creation of the George Floyd memorial scholarship and said it had already raised 53,000 dollars.
“It is time to invest like never before in a new generation of young black Americans who are poised and ready to take leadership of our nation,” Scott Hagan said.
Other memorials took place around the country and additional formal services are planned in the coming days in North Carolina, where Floyd was born, and Houston, where he spent most of his life.
During and after the memorial thousands of people gathered for peaceful protests in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and Washington continuing days of nationwide demonstrations.
Outside the White House demonstrators sat in the street in protest, as law enforcement intensified security measures in the adjacent Lafayette Square, where President Donald Trump forcefully cleared largely peaceful protesters days earlier.
The ACLU, a civil rights group, on Thursday announced a lawsuit against Trump and other US officials over the incident in Lafayette Square, calling it a “criminal attack on protesters.”
The lawsuit says the Trump administration officials violated the constitution when they dispersed the crowd using tear gas and charged the crowd.
“We won’t be silenced by tear gas and rubber bullets. Now is our time to be heard,” said April Goggans, an organizer of Black Lives Matter and the lead plaintiff in the case.
Meanwhile over a thousand people marched through downtown Los Angeles on Thursday evening.
The sombre memorial in Minneapolis took place as three former police officers appeared before a judge for the first time following their arrests on Wednesday. They face charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s killing.
Their bail was set at 1 million dollars each, according to court records.
The amount would be reduced to 750,000 dollars should they accept certain conditions, including one prohibiting contact with the Floyd family as well as restrictions on firearms.
The charge against a fourth former officer, Derek Chauvin, was elevated to second degree-murder. He is set to appear in court on Monday, jail documents show.
Chauvin was filmed with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while two other officers appeared to have had their legs on his back and a fourth stood by.
There was no sign of Floyd resisting arrest, and he was heard pleading “I can’t breathe,” which has become a rallying cry at the ongoing protests that his death sparked.
All four officers were fired.
The charges met a key demand of Floyd’s family members, who have said that for them, justice means all the officers involved in the death will be held accountable.
Demonstrations across the US, sometimes marred by violence and looting, were overwhelmingly peaceful on Wednesday night.
Floyd’s family has called for sustained peaceful protests.