June 10, 2020 / 11:02 AM / a month ago

Protests "to change the whole wide world" following Floyd's funeral

* Floyd’s death unleashes protests across the world

* His dying words become anti-racism rallying cry

* Two columns of Houston police salute his coffin

By Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams

HOUSTON, June 10 (Reuters) - Protesters will take to the streets across the United States again on Wednesday one day after the funeral of George Floyd, whose death in police custody has ignited the biggest surge of anti-racism activism since the civil rights era of the 1960s.

Hundreds of protesters in the west coast city of Seattle filled City Hall into early Wednesday calling for the mayor to resign and for police reforms.

More protests were expected from Atlanta to New York City and Los Angeles in what will be the 16th straight day of demonstrations.

In Washington, one of Floyd’s brothers was due to speak to a Democratic-led congressional panel on Wednesday as lawmakers take on the twin issues of police violence and racial injustice.

At the funeral in Houston on Tuesday, veteran civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton told mourners Floyd was now “the cornerstone of a movement that is going to change the whole wide world”.

Sharpton said the Floyd family would lead a march on Washington on Aug. 28 to mark the 57th anniversary of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968.

Floyd, 46, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he was held face down in a street in Minneapolis on May 25. {nL8N2DM4HR]

His death unleashed a surge of protests across U.S. cities against racism and the systematic mistreatment of black people.

It has also inspired anti-racism protests in several countries in Europe. In Britain, with its own conflicted legacy of empire, statues of historical figures linked to the slave trade have been toppled or taken down.

Though mostly peaceful, the U.S. protests have been marred by arson, looting and clashes with police, whose often heavy-handed tactics have fueled the rage.

The furor has also thrust President Donald Trump into a political crisis as he bids for re-election in November. Trump has threatened tough action to restore order but has struggled to unite the nation while failing to address the issue of racial inequality.

GRIEF AND OUTRAGE

During a four-hour service broadcast live from a church in Floyd’s boyhood home of Houston, relatives, clergy and politicians exhorted Americans to turn grief and outrage at his death into a moment of reckoning for the country.

Some 2,500 people attended the funeral after more than 6,000 people had filed past Floyd’s open casket on Monday.

Two columns of Houston police officers saluted the golden casket as it was wheeled from the hearse into the church before the service. A horse-drawn carriage later bore the coffin on its last mile to the cemetery in Pearland, Texas, where Floyd was buried in a private ceremony.

Among those attending were relatives of several other black men killed by white police or white civilians, including the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Georgia man who was shot and killed in February while jogging. Three white men were charged in his death.

Sharpton called Floyd “an ordinary brother” who grew up in a housing project but left behind a legacy of greatness despite rejections in jobs and sports that prevented him from achieving all that he once aspired to become.

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, has been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers with aiding and abetting Floyd’s death. All were dismissed from the department a day after the incident.

Video footage shot by a bystander showed Floyd handcuffed and lying face down on the street while an officer kneels into the back of his neck. Floyd gasps for air as he cries out, “Mama,” and groans “Please, I can’t breathe,” before falling silent and still.

His dying words have become a rallying cry for protesters.

Calls have also been made for “defunding” police departments or redirecting money spent on law enforcement to community programs.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was among politicians embracing police reforms.

“We need to root out systemic racism across our laws and institutions, and we need to make sure black Americans have a real shot to get ahead.” Biden wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today in Wednesday

He said that while he did not support defunding, “I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments that are violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort.”

Reporting by Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston; additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Sabahatjahan Contractor in Bengaluru; Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Nick Macfie

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