By Antoni Belchi
Houston, Jun 9 (efe-epa).- Family members, friends and community and political leaders called for justice and systemic change here Tuesday at the hometown private funeral for George Floyd, an African-American man who died late last month in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while in police custody.
A total of 500 people invited by Floyd’s family – all of whom were wearing masks – attended the ceremony at Houston’s 2,000-seat The Fountain of Praise church, which was only one-fourth full due to coronavirus social-distancing restrictions.
The service was broadcast live by major television networks in the United States and came a day after more than 6,000 people attended a viewing at that same church for Floyd, who died on May 25, and five days after an earlier funeral for him in Minneapolis.
Among the speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony was the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who delivered remarks via video message.
“I think what happened here is one of the great inflection points in American history, for real, in terms of civil liberties, civil rights and just treating people with dignity,” Biden said.
The former US vice president, who met on Monday with the family of the victim and directed part of his remarks to Floyd’s six-year-old daughter, Gianna, said “now is the time for racial justice.”
“That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask, ‘Why?’ Because when there’s justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice in America. And then, as you said, Gianna, your daddy will have changed the world.”
Floyd died as a result of a May 25 incident in which a since-fired white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on the neck of the 46-year-old man for nearly nine minutes even though the suspect – and bystanders who took video footage – repeatedly pleaded for mercy.
Chauvin, who is being held at the Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility near Stillwater, Minnesota, has been charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Bail has been set at $1.25 million.
Three other since-fired police officers who were at the scene and involved in Floyd’s arrest – including an African-American cop and an officer of Southeast Asian Hmong descent – have been charged with unintentional aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The official autopsy found that Floyd, who was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store, died of cardiopulmonary arrest. It said the suspect was suffering from heart problems and also was under the effect of fentanyl intoxication but did not link those factors to his death.
An independent autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family found that he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.
Floyd’s death has triggered a series of demonstrations over the past two weeks in the United States, where nighttime curfews were imposed in around 40 cities in a bid to halt rioting, arson and looting.
Among those in attendance at Floyd’s funeral was Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who announced at the service that he will sign an executive order barring police from using chokeholds on people in their custody.
Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist, delivered the eulogy at the funeral and stressed the importance of ensuring that justice is served.
“We have permitted people to become officers of the law that ought to be somewhere else in society,” Sharpton said. “Imagine you pressing down on something (for) eight minutes that’s telling you I can’t breathe, that’s begging for their life and you keep pressing, what kind of mentality is that?”
“Until we know the price of black life is the same as the price for white life, we are going to keep coming back to these situations over and over again. Either the law will work or it won’t work,” he added.
Tuesday’s ceremony was paid for in its entirety by American former boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr., who also pledged to finance three other funeral services for Floyd. He was one of the celebrities in attendance in Houston along with American actors Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx.
Afterward, Floyd’s body was escorted by the Houston Police Department to a cemetery in the suburb of Pearland.