The white police officer whose fatal arrest of George Floyd sparked mass protests for racial justice across the United States and beyond was to make his first court appearance Monday in Minneapolis, where the city council has moved to disband the police department.
Thousands of mourners were expected to attend a memorial for the 46-year-old African American at the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston, the Texas town where he grew up and is to be buried on Tuesday next to his mother.
Among those paying their respects will be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, who were also to meet privately with Floyd’s family.
In Minnesota, Derek Chauvin, 44, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force, was to appear in court to face second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for his role in Floyd’s May 25 death.
Chauvin, who is seen in harrowing video footage kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he gasps “I can’t breathe,” could face decades behind bars if convicted.
Three other Minneapolis police officers appeared in court last week to face a charge of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder for their roles in his arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Chauvin’s appearance in Hennepin County District Court is scheduled for 12:45 pm Central Time (1745 GMT) and is to be held remotely by video link from a prison in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Floyd’s death, the latest of an African-American man at the hands of police, has unleashed protests for racial justice and against police brutality in cities across the United States and around the world.
The Minneapolis city council pledged on Sunday to dismantle and rebuild the police department.
“We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe,” council president Lisa Bender said.
– ‘Massive structural reform’ –
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is against getting rid of the department, however, and the head of the city’s powerful police union, Bob Kroll, appeared on stage last year with President Donald Trump.
Frey told AFP he supported “massive structural reform to revise this structurally racist system” but not “abolishing the entire police department.”
Other US cities have already begun to embrace reforms — starting with bans on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
In Washington, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and two dozen other lawmakers kneeled in silence at the US Capitol for the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Chauvin spent with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
The tribute to Floyd and other black Americans “who have unjustly lost their lives” was held in Emancipation Hall — named in honor of the slaves who helped erect the Capitol building.
Democrats went on to unveil a wide-ranging police reform bill, one of the chief demands of demonstrators who have taken to the streets for the past two weeks in the most sweeping US protests for racial justice since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“What we have to do as a nation is hold police accountable,” said Florida Representative Val Demings, a former police officer who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Biden.
It is unclear what support the proposed reforms might find in the Republican-controlled Senate — or whether Trump would sign such legislation into law.
Trump has adopted a tough approach to putting down the protests and his administration has proposed no specific policy changes in response to the widespread outrage over Floyd’s death.
“LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!” he tweeted on Monday.
The president was scheduled to host a roundtable with law enforcement at the White House on Monday.
A new CNN poll published on Monday of registered voters had Biden with a 14-point lead over Trump — 55 percent to 41 percent — his biggest margin yet in the White House race.
© 2020 AFP