Thousands view George Floyd’s casket to pay respects

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More than 6,300 people took part in visitation, which ran over six hours

HOUSTON : Thousands of mourners braved sweltering Texas heat on Monday to view the casket of Mr George Floyd, whose death after a police officer knelt on his neck ignited worldwide protests against racism and calls for reforms of US law enforcement.

Throngs of mourners wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus formed a procession to pay their final respects.

Solemnly filing through the Fountain of Praise church in two parallel lines, some mourners bowed their heads, others made the sign of the cross or raised a fist, as they paused in front of Mr Floyd's open casket. More than 6,300 people took part in the visitation, which ran for more than six hours, church officials said.

"I'm glad he got the send-off he deserved," Mr Marcus Williams, 46, a black resident of Houston, said outside the church.

"I want the police killings to stop. I want them to reform the process to achieve justice, and stop the killing."

The public viewing came two weeks to the day after Mr Floyd's death was captured by an onlooker's video. As a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, an unarmed and handcuffed Mr Floyd, 46, lay face down on a Minneapolis street, gasping for air and groaning for help, before falling silent.

Mr Floyd's dying words, "I can't breathe", has become a rallying cry in a global outpouring of rage, drawing crowds by the thousands to the streets despite health hazards from the pandemic.

The demonstrations stretched into a third week on Monday.

"Even though it is a risk to come out here, I think it has been a very positive experience. You hear the stories, you feel the energy," Mr Benedict Chiu, 24, told Reuters at an outdoor memorial service in Los Angeles.

"I'm here to protest the mistreatment of our black bodies."

As the public viewing unfolded in Houston, Derek Chauvin, 44, the police officer who knelt on Mr Floyd's neck and is charged with second-degree murder, made his first court appearance in Minneapolis by video link.

A judge ordered his bail raised from US$1 million (S$1.4 million) to US$1.25 million.

Chauvin's co-defendants, three fellow officers accused of aiding and abetting Mr Floyd's murder, were previously ordered held on US$750,000 to US$1 million bond each.

All four were dismissed from the police department the day after Mr Floyd's death.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is challenging the Republican President Donald Trump in the election, met Mr Floyd's relatives for more than an hour in Houston on Monday, said the family's lawyer, Mr Benjamin Crump.

"He listened, heard their pain and shared in their woe," Mr Crump said. "That compassion meant the world to this grieving family."

Mr Trump has pledged to maintain funding for police departments, saying 99 per cent of police were "great, great people".

"There won't be defunding, there won't be dismantling of our police," he told a roundtable of state, federal, and local law enforcement officials at the White House. - REUTERS