(AP) — Hollywood celebrities, musicians and the politically powerful filed into a sanctuary in front of the golden casket of George Floyd for a memorial service Thursday as mourners began a three-city farewell to the man who was anonymous in life but sparked global protests for justice in death.
The service was held at North Central University for the 46-year-old out-of-work bouncer, who died May 25 after a white police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck as the black man lay handcuffed on the pavement, gasping that he couldn’t breathe.
From coast to coast, and from Paris and London to Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, his death has set off turbulent and sometimes violent demonstrations against police brutality, racism and inequality.
“He was a human being. He had family, he had dreams, he had hopes. The real duty of one with this type of assignment is to underscore the value of the human life that was taken, which gives the reason the movement was occurring,” the civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton said ahead of the gathering.
The service drew the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and members of Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ayana Pressley. Among the celebrities in attendance were T.I., Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Marsai Martin.
Inside the sanctuary, the casket was flanked by white and purple flowers, and an image was projected above the pulpit of a mural of Floyd painted at the street corner where he was pinned to the pavement by police. 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 mourners wore masks.
Memorials to Floyd are set to take place in three cities over six days: After the Minneapolis event, his body will go to Raeford, North Carolina, 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.
The farewells for Floyd — who was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store — come as demonstrations around the globe continue.
“It’s a solidarity question. We stand with our brothers, internationally, our sisters as well, but the same thing is happening here. It’s no different,” Isaak Kabenge said in Stockholm.
In the U.S., where protests had been marked by bouts of lawlessness earlier in the week, relative quiet continued for a second straight night Wednesday following a decision by prosecutors to charge the three other Minneapolis officers at the scene of Floyd’s death with aiding and abetting a murder.
Authorities also filed a new, more serious murder charge — second-degree, up from third-degree — against the officer at the center of the case, Derek Chauvin.
If convicted, they could get 40 years in prison.
The three officers newly charged in the Floyd’s death — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were due to make a first court appearance Thursday. Chauvin is not due in court until Monday.
Meantime, in Georgia, a white father and son charged in another killing of a black man that has raised racial tensions in the U.S. made a court appearance Thursday via video. A state investigator testified that Travis McMichael was heard uttering a racist slur as he stood over the body of Ahmaud Arbery after killing him with three blasts from a pump-action shotgun.
The new charges in Minneapolis punctuated an unprecedented week in recent American history, in which largely peaceful protests took place in communities of all sizes but were rocked by bursts of violence, including deadly attacks on officers, theft, vandalism and arson. In Minneapolis alone, more than 220 buildings were damaged or burned, with damage topping $55 million, city officials said.
Nationwide, more than 10,000 people have been arrested, an Associated Press tally found. More than a dozen deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.