U.S. civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton told mourners that George Floyd’s death in police custody and the nationwide protests it ignited marked a reckoning for America over race and justice, demanding, “Get your knee off our necks.”
Memorial tributes to Floyd in Minneapolis, where he was killed on May 25, and in the New York borough of Brooklyn, a major flashpoint for demonstrations, came as protesters returned to the streets of several cities for a 10th straight day on Thursday, including Atlanta, Washington, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles.
The largely peaceful protests waned into Friday morning and emergency curfews in many cities including Los Angeles were lifted.
Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service at a university chapel in Minneapolis, Sharpton said Floyd’s death at the hands of police, pinned to the ground under the knee of a white officer, symbolized a universal experience of police brutality for African Americans.
“George Floyd should not be among the deceased. He did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction,” Sharpton said.
“It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks.'”
Sharpton led mourners in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the amount of time Floyd lay on a Minneapolis street with the officer’s knee pressed into his neck.
A string of memorial services are expected to stretch across six days and three states. A funeral is planned for Tuesday.
The nationwide protests were for the most part orderly on Thursday, in contrast to several previous nights punctuated by sporadic arson, looting and clashes between protesters and police and the mobilization of the National Guard in several states.
New York City insisted that residents stay home after 8 p.m. and was facing calls from frustrated residents to end the restrictions. Video on social media showed police in different cities using batons and flash grenades and firing tear gas without warning.
In Buffalo, New York, two police officers were suspended after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground as he approached police lines. The man, who appeared to bleed from his head, was taken to hospital where he was in a stable but serious condition.
New York police also detained and later released a food delivery worker late on Thursday for violating the curfew, even though food delivery is considered essential work.
Videos circulated on social media show the man pointing his food delivery bag and telling police officers, “Are you serious? Look, look, look… (I) am not even doing anything.”
In Atlanta, which had seen nights of unrest including police cars and storefronts being set on fire, most protesters headed home at the 9 p.m. curfew and only six arrests were made, police said on Friday.
The change in mood reflected a determination voiced by many protesters and organizers in recent days to transform outrage over Floyd’s death into a renewed civil rights movement, seeking reforms to America’s criminal justice system.
“This is a very seismic moment, and someday I’m going to have a kid, and he or she or they are going to ask me what I did during the uprising of 2020, during the American spring,” said Nana Mensah, a writer in her 30s from Brooklyn.
She held a sign that read: “You’re lucky we just want equality and not revenge.”
In the capital, hundreds if not thousands assembled for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, many sitting on the ground listening to speakers and chanting, “Say his name – George Floyd,” before an evening thunderstorm dispersed the crowd.
The size of the demonstrations coast to coast appeared to ebb after prosecutors on Wednesday elevated murder charges against one police officer and arrested three others accused of aiding and abetting him.
On Thursday, the three newly arrested officers made their first appearance in court and were ordered to remain held, with bail set at $750,000 each.
Their principal co-defendant, Derek Chauvin, 44, is due to appear for his bail hearing on Monday. Chauvin is the officer seen in video footage kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd gasped for air and groaned “I can’t breathe” before passing out.
The four defendants, all dismissed from the Minneapolis police the day after Floyd died, each faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges.
Floyd, a Houston native who had worked security at nightclubs, was unarmed when taken into custody outside a corner market where an employee had reported that a man matching his description tried to pay for cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.