Thousands mourn George Floyd in Texas amid calls for reform

Pallbearers load the casket of George Floyd into a hearse after a public viewing at the Fountain of Praise church Monday, June 8, 2020, in Houston. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2020

Thousands mourn George Floyd in Texas amid calls for reform

  • “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close,” says brother

HOUSTON: The last chance for the public to say goodbye to George Floyd drew thousands of mourners Monday to a church in Houston where he grew up, as his death two weeks ago continues to stoke protests in America and beyond over racial injustice, and spurred France to abruptly halt the use of police choke holds.
Reflecting the weight of the moment, the service drew the families of black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared in America’s conversation over race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
“It just hurts,” said Philonize Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside The Fountain of Praise church. “We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.”
Under a blazing Texas sun, mourners wearing T-shirts with Floyd’s picture or the words “I Can’t Breathe” — the phrase he said repeatedly while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer — waited for hours to pay their respects as Floyd’s body, dressed in a brown suit, lay in an open gold-colored casket. Some sang “Lean on Me” and Houston’s police chief bumped fists and embraced others in line. Funeral home spokeswoman La’Torria Lemon said at least 6,000 attended the service.
Some knew Floyd in the nearby housing projects where he grew up. Others traveled hours or drove in from other states. Those who couldn’t make it whipped up their own tributes: In Los Angeles, a funeral-style procession of cars inched through downtown as the viewing began in Houston. In Tennessee, residents of Memphis held a moment of silence.
Bracy Burnett approached Floyd’s casket wearing a homemade denim face mask scrawled with “8:46″ — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd, who was black, was pinned to the ground under a white officer’s knee before he died.
“All black people are not criminals. All white people are not racists. All cops are not bad. And ignorance comes in all colors. That’s what I thought about when I viewed the body,” Burnett, 66, said.
Floyd’s death on May 25 has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the US by police and the criminal justice system.
Hours into the viewing, a judge in Minneapolis kept bail at $1 million for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death. Chauvin, 44, said almost nothing during the 11-minute hearing while appearing on closed-circuit television from a maximum-security prison.
Two weeks after Floyd’s death, the impact continued to resonate at home and abroad.
In Paris, France’s top security official said police would no longer permit choke holds that have been blamed for multiple cases of asphyxiation and have come under renewed criticism after Floyd’s death.
In Portland, Oregon, the city’s police chief resigned Monday, just six months into her job, amid criticism of her department’s handling of protests in Oregon’s largest city. An African American lieutenant on the force replaced her. The shakeup came as police have been sharply criticized for using what has been called inappropriate force against some protesters as huge demonstrations continue in Portland.
“With this happening to him, it’s going to make a difference in the world,” said Pam Robinson, who grew up with Floyd and handed out bottled water to mourners waiting outside the church. The punishing heat spiked above 90 degrees and got to dozens in line, including one person who was taken to a hospital. Dozens more were helped to a cooling tent.
Comill Adams said she drove more than seven hours from Oklahoma City with her family, including two children ages 8 and 10. They wore matching black T-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” on the back — shirts she made up specially for the memorial.
“We had been watching the protests on TV. We’ve been at home feeling outraged. At times it brought us to tears,” Adams said. “The fact this one is causing change, we had to come be a part of it.”
Mourners were required to wear masks over fears of the coronavirus and stood 6 feet apart as they paused briefly to view the casket. On a stage behind the casket two identical murals showed Floyd wearing a black cap that read “Houston” and angel wings drawn behind him.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among the first to view the casket, wearing a striped gold-and-crimson tie, the colors of Floyd’s Houston high school, where Floyd was a standout football player.
“George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas responds to this tragedy,” Abbott said.
Floyd’s death has spurred calls for change nationwide.
The Minneapolis City Council has vowed to dismantle the city’s 800-member police agency. And in Washington, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall before proposing legislative changes in policing oversight, reading Floyd’s name and those of others killed during police interactions and kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality.
Besides banning police choke holds, the Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police and create a national database of excessive-force incidents, according to an early draft. It is the most ambitious change to law enforcement sought by Congress in years.
Meanwhile, officials nationwide are already taking steps to outlaw choke holds: California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s police training program to stop teaching them and Denver police announced Sunday they were banning them, effective immediately.
Floyd’s funeral will be Tuesday, followed by burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he will be laid to rest next to his mother, Larcenia Floyd.
Former Vice President Joe Biden met with Floyd’s family Monday, according to a photo posted on Twitter by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Biden will provide a video message for Floyd’s funeral service. Previous memorials have taken place in Minneapolis and Raeford, North Carolina, near where Floyd was born.
Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country, according to reports tracked by The Associated Press.
But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics.
Several cities have lifted curfews, including Chicago and New York City, where the governor urged protesters to get tested for the coronavirus as concerns have been raised that demonstrations could lead to an increase in virus cases.


England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

Updated 14 June 2021

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

  • Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed "Freedom Day"
  • Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to "ease off the accelerator"

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay to the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England due to a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.
The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on June 21 after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.
Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day,” which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.
But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.
“On the evidence I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks and won’t need to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a press briefing.
Health policy is devolved in the four nations that make up the UK, handled separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland, which was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28, is also expected to announce a delay to its reopening.
In England, most current rules — including limits on the number of people who can meet in pubs and restaurants — will remain in place until July 19, although restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings will be lifted.
Large scale pilot events, such as Euro 2020 football matches, will also go ahead as planned.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 96 percent of UK cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
Total reported cases are now at their highest since February — around 8,000 new infections a day.
The Delta variant is believed to be around 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, southeast England.
That strain forced the country to go into another three-month lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low, thanks in large part to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout.
More than 55 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
Newspapers have hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay, with The Times citing an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision.”
Johnson accepted that “we cannot simply eliminate Covid, we must learn to live with it,” but added that “once the adults of this country have been overwhelmingly vaccinated... we will be in a far stronger position to... live with this disease.”
The government hopes that two thirds of all adults will have received two shots by July 19.
A study released Monday found that two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine stopped the need for in-patient treatment in 96 percent of cases of the new variant.
With a double dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, the rate was 92 percent.
The government had hoped to allow crowds to return unrestricted to pubs and clubs next week, with the hard-hit hospitality industry warning it is on its last legs.
Trade association UKHospitality estimated that a month’s delay in lifting the restrictions would cost the sector around £3 billion ($4.23 billion) in sales.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said its chief executive Kate Nicholls.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

Updated 14 June 2021

France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

  • General Francois Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected

PARIS: France’s chief of staff of the armed forces, General Francois Lecointre, is stepping down to retire and will be replaced by General Thierry Burkhard, the French Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
Burkhard was up to now army’s chief of land staff. Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected.
The announcement comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawdown in Mali which will take several months of planning.


New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

Updated 14 June 2021

New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

  • The US-backed film ‘They Are Us’ has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims
  • Jacinda Ardern says filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday criticized a planned movie about her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks as poorly timed and focused on the wrong subject.
The US-backed film “They Are Us” has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims, with community leaders slamming the project for pushing a “white savior” narrative.
Ardern said the attacks – when a white supremacist gunman ran amok at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40 – remained “very raw” for many New Zealanders.
She said filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie, which is set to star Australia’s Rose Byrne as the center-left leader.
“In my view, which is a personal view, it feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“And while there are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don’t consider mine to be one of them – they are the community’s stories, the families’ stories.”
One of the movie’s producers, Philippa Campbell, quit the project in the wake of Ardern’s comments, saying she regretted the shock and hurt it had caused.
“I now agree the events of March 15, 2019, are too raw for film at this time and do not want to be involved with a project that is causing such distress,” she said in a statement.
Ardern won widespread praise for her empathetic and inclusive handling of the attacks, the worst mass shooting in modern New Zealand history, including wearing a scarf when meeting mourners.
The movie’s title references a line from a speech she gave in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity when she pledged to support the Muslim community and tighten gun laws.
A petition from the National Islamic Youth Association calling for the production to be shut down has gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
The association said the proposed film “sidelines the victims and survivors and instead centers the response of a white woman.”
It said the Muslim community had not been properly consulted about the project, which has been scripted by New Zealand writer Andrew Niccol.
“Entities and individuals should not seek to commercialize or profit from a tragedy that befell our community, neither should such an atrocity be sensationalized,” association co-chair Haris Murtaza said.
Muslim poet Mohamed Hassan said the filmmakers needed to focus on members of the community that bore the brunt of the attacks, not use them as props in a feel-good story about Ardern.
“You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a White Savior narrative. This is not yours,” he tweeted.
The attacker, Australian self-declared white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, was jailed for life without parole last year, the first time a whole-of-life term has been imposed in New Zealand.