‘Get your knee off our necks!’: Mourners farewell George

 

Hollywood celebrities, musicians and political leaders gathered in front of the golden casket of George Floyd at a fiery memorial for the man whose death at the hands of police sparked global protests, with a civil-rights leader declaring it is time for black people to demand, "Get your knee off our necks!"

The service - the first in a series of memorials set for three cities over six days - unfolded at a sanctuary at North Central University as a judge a few blocks away set bail at $US750,000 ($A1 million) each for the three fired Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in Floyd's death.

"George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks. Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a fierce eulogy.

"It's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'Get your knee off our necks!"'

Floyd, a 46-year-old out-of-work bouncer, died May 25 after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, put his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes as he lay handcuffed on the pavement, gasping that he couldn't breathe.

Chauvin has been charged with murder, and he and the others could get up to 40 years in prison.

 

People fill Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary at North Central University Thursday, June 4, 2020, before a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis. Picture: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
People fill Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary at North Central University Thursday, June 4, 2020, before a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis. Picture: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

The Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo knelt as the body of George Floyd was taken to the memorial service held in his honour.

Those gathered at Thursday's tribute stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time Floyd was alleged to be on the ground under the knee of a white police officer.

Sharpton vowed that this will become a movement to "change the whole system of justice."

"Time is out for not holding you accountable! Time is out for you making excuses! Time is out for you trying to stall! Time is out for empty words and empty promises! Time is out for you filibustering and trying to stall the arm of justice!" he said.

The service drew the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and other members of Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson Lee and Ayanna Pressley. Among the celebrities in attendance were T.I., Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Marsai Martin.

"All these people came to see my brother," Philonise Floyd told the crowd at the memorial in awe as he recounted their childhoods playing catch and eating banana-mayonnaise sandwiches. "That's amazing to me that he touched so many people's hearts because he touched our hearts."

Entertainer Kevin Hart joins guests at North Central University. Picture: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Entertainer Kevin Hart joins guests at North Central University. Picture: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

 

 

The casket was covered in red roses, and a vibrant image was projected above the pulpit of a mural of Floyd painted at the street corner where he was arrested by police on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. The message on the mural: "I can breathe now." The sanctuary normally seats 1,000, but because of the coronavirus outbreak, the capacity was reduced to about 500, and many mourners wore masks, some with "I can't breathe" on them.

Philonise Floyd speaks at a memorial service for his brother, George Floyd. Picture: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Philonise Floyd speaks at a memorial service for his brother, George Floyd. Picture: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Outside, hundreds chanted Floyd's name as a hearse prepared to carry him away. After the Minneapolis event, his body will go to Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born, for a public viewing and private family service on Saturday. Next, a public viewing will be held Monday in Houston, where he was raised and lived most of his life. Then a 500-person service will take place Tuesday at the Fountain of Praise church.

Mr Floyd was killed 10 days ago on Memorial Day by police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Mr Floyd begged for help and said he couldn't breathe.

Three other officers charged in Mr Floyd's death have made their first court appearance and a Minneapolis judge has charged them with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder and second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter in the death of Floyd.

Judge Paul Scoggin ordered the defendants could be released on US$750,000 ($A1 million) bail if they followed certain conditions including surrendering firearms, permits, and made no contact with the victim's family.

Mr Floyd's death caused widespread outrage and set off riots, looting and massive peaceful protests in all 50 states and abroad where demonstrators demanded accountability, reforms in the police department or an outright abolishment of cops all together.

Chauvin, originally charged with third-degree murder, which is killing without intent, saw those charges upgraded to second-degree murder Wednesday and the three other cops involved in the arrest were also cuffed and brought to jail.

FLOYD WAS NOT TRYING TO RESIST ARREST, SAYS FRIEND

It comes as a friend of George Floyd - the handcuffed black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police - said Floyd tried to defuse the tensions with police and in no way resisted arrest.

"He was, from the beginning, trying in his humblest form to show he was not resisting in no form or way," Maurice Lester Hall, who was in the passenger seat of Floyd's car during the deadly encounter, said in an interview with the New York Times.

"I could hear him pleading, 'Please, officer, what's all this for?'" Mr Hall said.

Mr Hall said they had spent part of the day together.

"He was just crying out at that time for anyone to help because he was dying," Mr Hall said. "I'm going to always remember seeing the fear in Floyd's face because he's such a king. That's what sticks with me, seeing a grown man cry, before seeing a grown man die."

Mr Hall is a key witness in the state's investigation into the four officers arrested over Floyd's death.

 

 

George Floyd, who died after a police officer in Minneapolis held him down on the street with his knee in the back of his neck. Picture: Supplied
George Floyd, who died after a police officer in Minneapolis held him down on the street with his knee in the back of his neck. Picture: Supplied

THREE NYPD COPS STABBED, SHOT

Meanwhile, AP reports three police officers suffered stab and gun shot in an ambush in Brooklyn, New York, just before midnight on Wednesday local time.

A man stabbed in the neck an NYPD officer on an anti-looting patrol, setting off a struggle in which the assailant was shot and two other officers suffered gunshot injuries to their hands.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said all three officers were expected to recover.

"What we know at this point and time is that it appears to be a completely, cowardly, despicable, unprovoked attack on a defenceless police officer and thank God we aren't planning a funeral right now," Shea said.

He said it was one of several attacks on police officers in recent days, including one in which a driver ploughed into a police sergeant who was trying to stop looting in the Bronx and a lieutenant who was struck in the helmet by a brick during a brawl with protesters in Manhattan.

 

 

 

FLOYD HAD COVID-19; FOUR OFFICERS CHARGED

George Floyd tested positive for COVID-19 before he died, according to his autopsy.

The 44-year-old father of two was asymptomatic when he tested positive for the coronavirus on April 3, the 20-page report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner said.

He was still positive at the time of his death, according to the report, which said evidence of the virus "can persist for weeks after the onset and resolution of clinical disease".

It came as each of the four police officers involved in his killing faced new charges from authorities in Minneapolis, and his family thanked supporters from as far away as Australia.

Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Mr Floyd's neck until he stopped breathing, faced a new count of murder, while Minnesota Attorney-General Keith Ellison charged former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane with "aiding and abetting murder in the second degree".

Chauvin was charged with murder in the second degree, after initially being charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.

 

 

 

EVIDENCE SUPPORTS BOLSTERED CHARGES

Prosecutors will need to prove Chauvin intended to kill Mr Floyd for a guilty verdict.

"This is a step today that the public wants to see," said Minnesota governor Tim Walz.

The new charge against Chauvin carries a potential 40-year sentence as opposed to 25-years for third degree murder, which is defined by recklessly but unintentionally causing death.

Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes, three of them after he lost consciousness.

The four were sacked after Mr Floyd's killing on May 25 as they were responding to a complaint he passed a fake $20 note.

After Mr Floyd resisted getting into their squad car, three of the officers restrained him.

Mr Ellison said the evidence available supported the stronger charge against Chauvin and new charges against the officers.

 

Although Lane at one point asked "should we roll him on his side", after Mr Floyd complained he couldn't breathe, the fact the officer didn't help him led to the charge of aiding and abetting.

"Despite his comments, the defendant (Lane) took no actions to assist Mr Floyd," said the criminal complaint.

Delays in charging the officers helped stoke anger that exploded into more than a week of violent protests across the country, which continues to be the most significant civil unrest in decades.

The bolstered charges were expected after Mr Ellison took over the investigation two days ago from Minneapolis authorities.

FAMILY THANKS PROTESTERS

Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family lawyer, described the charges as "a bittersweet moment" for his loved ones.

"We are deeply gratified that @AGEllison took decisive action, arresting & charging ALL the officers involved in #GeorgeFloyd's death & upgrading the charge against Derek Chauvin to felony second-degree murder," Crump wrote in a post on Twitter.

Mr Crump thanked the citizens of Australia and other countries who have taken part in Black Lives Matter protests for their support, on behalf of the Floyd family.

"We are here proud that this family's call for justice was heard by so many people not just in Minnesota, but in New York, in Houston, Texas, in Australia," Mr Crump said.

"Everywhere people have heard this call for justice for George."

Quincy Mason Floyd, right, son of George Floyd, is joined by civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, centre, for a press conference at the spot where his father died in Minneapolis. Picture: AP
Quincy Mason Floyd, right, son of George Floyd, is joined by civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, centre, for a press conference at the spot where his father died in Minneapolis. Picture: AP

Mr Crump and the Floyd family had asked for all four officers to be charged with first degree murder, but said the decision to go after Chauvin on second degree murder was also welcome.

Mr Ellison explained why he didn't pursue first degree murder charges.

"According to Minnesota law you have to have premeditation and deliberation to charge first degree murder," Mr Ellison said.

"(For) second degree murder, you have to intend for death to be the result."

He also said there were no current plans for prosectors to entertain a plea bargain deal with any of the four cops.

"It's simply way too early to begin that conversation," he said.

 

OBAMA SUPPORTS PEACEFUL PROTESTERS

Former president Barack Obama also spoke out about the protests, saying he was inspired by the number of young people who had turned out.

"It makes me feel optimistic," he said in a video town hall.

"It makes me feel as though … this country is going to get better."

And US President Donald Trump tried to downplay being taken to a security bunker in the White House during violent protests outside, saying he was inspecting the room.

He also denied tear gas was used the next day to clear a large crowd from an adjacent area so he could walk to a nearby church for a photo to be taken with a bible.

"They didn't use tear gas," Mr Trump told Fox News Radio.

This contradicts video footage and eye witness accounts from many who were present, including Australian media.

The church visit has been widely criticised for sparking a heavy handed response by police, who pushed back protesters as well as volunteers and clergy at St John's church.

"Now, when I went, I didn't say: 'Oh, move them out.' I didn't know who was there," Mr Trump said.

Washington DC is among dozens of American cities rocked by riots, violence and looting over the past week, as well as arson attacks such as that on the historic church.

Mr Trump was widely reported to have been swept by the Secret Service into a security bunker used during terrorist attacks for almost an hour, when demonstrators first tried to breach the White House grounds on Friday night.

"I was there for a tiny, short little period of time," Mr Trump said.

"It was much more for the inspection.

"Nobody ever came close to giving us a problem.

"It was during the day, it was not a problem."

 

 

Originally published as 'Get your knee off our necks!': Mourners farewell George Floyd

Three other officers involved in George Floyd’s death could face charges. Picture: AP
Three other officers involved in George Floyd’s death could face charges. Picture: AP