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‘Get your knee off our necks!’: Floyd mourned in Minneapolis

Protesters take a knee before continuing their march on the Brooklyn Bridge after attending a memorial service for George Floyd, on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Floyd, an African American man, died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hollywood celebrities, musicians and political leaders gathered in front of the golden casket of George Floyd at a fiery memorial Thursday for the man whose death at the hands of police sparked global protests, with a civil rights leader declaring it is time for black people to demand, “Get your knee off our necks!”

The service — the first in a series of memorials set for three cities over six days — unfolded at a sanctuary at North Central University as a judge a few blocks away set bail at $750,000 each for the three fired Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.

“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks. Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a fierce eulogy. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!'”

Floyd, a 46-year-old out-of-work bouncer, died May 25 after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he lay handcuffed on the pavement, gasping that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin has been charged with murder, and he and the others could get up to 40 years in prison.

From coast to coast, and from Paris and London to Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, the chilling cellphone video of Floyd’s slow death has set off turbulent and sometimes violent demonstrations against police brutality, racism and inequality.

Those gathered at Thursday’s tribute stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time Floyd was alleged to be on the ground under the control of police.

Sharpton vowed this will become a movement to “change the whole system of justice.”

“Time is out for not holding you accountable! Time is out for you making excuses! Time is out for you trying to stall! Time is out for empty words and empty promses! Time is out for you filibustering and trying to stall the arm of justice!” he said.

The service drew the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and other members of Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson Lee and Ayanna Pressley. Among the celebrities in attendance were T.I., Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Marsai Martin.

“All these people came to see my brother,” Philonise Floyd told the crowd at the memorial in awe as he recounted playing catch and eating banana-mayonnaise sandwiches. He and other family members spoke lovingly of Floyd.

He was well over 6 feet tall, which earned him the nickname “Big George.”

The casket was covered in red roses, and a vibrant image was projected above the pulpit of a mural of Floyd painted at the street corner where he was arrested by police on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. 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 many mourners wore masks, some with “I can’t breathe” on them.

Outside, hundreds chanted Floyd’s name as a hearse prepared to carry him away.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Trump administration, alleging officials violated the civil rights of peaceful protesters. The demonstrators were removed from a park Monday near the White House by police firing smoke bombs and pepper balls. After the protesters were cleared, President Donald Trump walked to a nearby church to take a photo.

The ACLU called it a “coordinated and unprovoked charge into the crowd of demonstrators.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the group Black Lives Matter D.C. and individual protesters who were in the park at the time.

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