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Memorial for George Floyd set for Thursday after days of protest, rage

The Reverend Al Sharpton, a television political commentator and civil rights activist who will give a eulogy at the service, struck an optimistic tone on Thursday morning, praising the unity of marchers protesting at police brutality.

The remains of George Floyd await a memorial service in his honor on 4 June 2020, at North Central University's Frank J. Lindquist Sanctuary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Picture: AFP

MINNEAPOLIS - Minneapolis was set to hold an emotionally charged memorial service on Thursday for George Floyd, the black man whose death in police custody set off a wave of protests and unrest that has roiled America in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a divisive presidential election campaign.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, a television political commentator and civil rights activist who will give a eulogy at the service, struck an optimistic tone on Thursday morning, praising the unity of marchers protesting at police brutality.

“I’ve seen more Americans of different races and of different ages, standing up together, marching together, raising their voices together,” he told MSNBC. “We are at a turning point here,” Sharpton said ahead of the event, due to start at 1pm Central Time (1800 GMT).

Huge crowds have defied curfews and taken to the streets of cities across the country for nine nights in sometimes violent protests that prompted President Donald Trump to threaten to send in the military.

The protests dwindled overnight into early Thursday after prosecutors leveled new charges against four Minneapolis policemen implicated in the killing. Several major cities scaled back or lifted curfews imposed for the past few days. But not all was calm.

In New York City’s Brooklyn borough, police in riot gear charged into a crowd of about 1,000 protesters defying a curfew.

Trump’s former Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, after long refusing to explicitly criticise a sitting president, denounced a militarisation of the response to civil unrest. Current Defence Secretary Mark Esper also said he did not back the use of troops to patrol the country.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis, who resigned as defence secretary in 2018, wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic.

“Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort.”

SERVICES PLANNED, POLICE CHARGED

Services for Floyd, 46, will stretch across six days and three states, the attorney for Floyd’s family told media. His killing has propelled the issue of race to the top of the political agenda five months before a 3 November presidential election.

Memorials will also be held on Saturday in Hoke County, North Carolina, where Floyd’s sister lives, and in Houston on Monday, near where Floyd lived, media said. A funeral is planned for Tuesday with private services at an undisclosed location.

Prosecutors on Wednesday leveled new criminal charges against four Minneapolis policemen implicated in Floyd’s death.

Derek Chauvin, 44, earlier arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, was also charged with second-degree murder.

The added charge can carry a sentence of up to 40 years, 15 years longer than the maximum sentence for third-degree murder.

Chauvin was the white officer seen in video footage kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd gasped for air and repeatedly groaned, “Please, I can’t breathe.”

In another racially charged case that has gained national attention, a court heard on Thursday that one of the white men charged in the murder of unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia used a racial slur after shooting the man and before police arrived at the scene.

Special Agent Richard Dial, an investigator for the prosecution, quoted William Bryan as saying Travis McMichael uttered the slur after shooting Arbery in February. Bryan and McMichael are both defendants in the case.

“Mr Bryan said that after the shooting took place before police arrival, while Mr. Arbery was on the ground, that he heard Travis McMichael make the statement: f###ing n###er,” Dial said in testimony to the court.