George Floyd protests: Hundreds expected at memorial service

Outrage over death of man in police custody overshadows pandemic fears

Protesters scuffling with US Army soldiers near the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday. The unrest, however, was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than during the previous few days. Above: A crowd protesting in San Francisco, Cali
People gathering on Wednesday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at a makeshift memorial for Mr Floyd. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protesters scuffling with US Army soldiers near the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday. The unrest, however, was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than during the previous few days. Above: A crowd protesting in San Francisco, Cali
A crowd protesting in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, against police brutality and the death of Mr George Floyd. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protesters scuffling with US Army soldiers near the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday. The unrest, however, was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than during the previous few days. Above: A crowd protesting in San Francisco, Cali
Protests on Wednesday - like this one in Oakland, California - were largely peaceful, although dozens of cities in the United States remained under curfew on Wednesday night. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protesters scuffling with US Army soldiers near the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday. The unrest, however, was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than during the previous few days. Above: A crowd protesting in San Francisco, Cali
Protesters scuffling with US Army soldiers near the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday. The unrest, however, was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than during the previous few days. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protesters scuffling with US Army soldiers near the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday. The unrest, however, was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than during the previous few days. Above: A crowd protesting in San Francisco, Cali
Demonstrators in Los Angeles, California, facing Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officers on Wednesday. By that day, law enforcement officers and people in the streets appeared less eager for confrontation. PHOTO: REUTERS

MINNEAPOLIS • For nearly three months, Americans have avoided most collective outpourings of grief as fears of the coronavirus converted funerals of lost friends and family into painfully socially distanced affairs.

But hundreds of people were expected to turn up yesterday for a memorial service for Mr George Floyd, a man whose recent death in police custody has elicited such outrage across the country that it has pushed fears of a global pandemic into the background.

"We have to be united, even with Covid(-19)," said Mr Yousif Hussein, 29, who was planning to attend the memorial for Mr Floyd, a black man who died last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.

"I have to show solidarity with George Floyd," Mr Hussein said outside the corner market in midtown Minneapolis where Mr Floyd made his final gasps - for help, for his mother and for air, a plea that has since become a painful refrain for racial and social justice in America: "I can't breathe."

Mr Floyd's death came after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit US$20 (S$30) bill.

A video of his last moments, as three other uniformed officers did not intervene, set off protests in dozens of cities and led to criminal charges this week against all four police officers. At least six people have died in violence connected to the protests.

On Wednesday, the Hennepin County medical examiner released Mr Floyd's autopsy report, which revealed he had tested positive for the coronavirus in early April, although it gave no indication that the virus factored into his death.

The news came as a gut punch, a painful reminder of how the virus has hit the black community in Minnesota, and throughout the nation, in disproportionate numbers.

Yesterday's memorial service was scheduled to take place at 1pm in a large sanctuary at North Central University in Minneapolis.

Other services for Mr Floyd were planned for tomorrow in Raeford, North Carolina, where some of his family lives, and next Monday in Houston, where he lived for many years.

The service, to be led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, came a day after enhanced charges were announced against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who wedged his knee onto Mr Floyd's neck, as well as new charges against three other officers who participated in the arrest. All have been fired.

Dozens of American cities remained under curfew on Wednesday night, but some began to relax their restrictions amid signs of a reduction in violence, vandalism and civil unrest. The protests began building up during the day and were largely peaceful, reinforcing hopes that the most serious convulsions had passed, especially after the three other officers were charged.

Mr Floyd was a star football and basketball player in high school in Houston, and moved to Minneapolis about five years ago. Family and friends described him as happy, careful not to judge and easy to talk to.

Plans were being finalised at the last minute for the memorial service at a chapel that holds several hundred people. Social distancing was expected to be in place for mourners. The service will be for family, friends and invitees of the Floyd family, according to the university's website.

Local media planned to livestream the event, and many people demonstrating on Wednesday said they had intended to gather in an area outside the chapel to pay respects during the service.

Dozens of American cities remained under curfew on Wednesday night, but some began to relax their restrictions amid signs of a reduction in violence, vandalism and civil unrest. The protests began building up during the day and were largely peaceful, reinforcing hopes that the most serious convulsions had passed, especially after the three other officers were charged.

But each day since the turmoil began, serious trouble had not emerged until night-time, leaving local and state officials again bracing themselves for renewed disturbances as evening approached.

The unrest was far less destructive on Tuesday and Wednesday than on the previous few nights, as both law enforcement officers and people in the streets appeared less eager for confrontation.

"The largest group of protesters that we have seen to this point have been doing a little bit of self-policing," Washington, DC police chief Peter Newsham said.

Meanwhile, a police officer in the Bay Area shot and killed a kneeling man after mistaking a hammer in the man's pocket for a gun, the authorities said on Wednesday.

The episode, which took place in Vallejo, California, early on Tuesday, further incensed residents who have been protesting Mr Floyd's death.

And in a separate case, a black man who called out "I can't breathe" before dying in police custody in Tacoma, Washington state, was killed as a result of oxygen deprivation and the physical restraint used on him, according to details of a medical examiner's report released on Wednesday.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that the death of the man, Mr Manuel Ellis, 33, was a homicide.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2020, with the headline 'Hundreds expected at memorial service'. Print Edition | Subscribe