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'He is going to change the world': Funeral held for Floyd

HOUSTON (AP) — George Floyd was lovingly remembered Tuesday as “Big Floyd” — a father and brother, athlete and mentor, and now a force for change — at a funeral for the black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice.

Hundreds of mourners wearing masks against the coronavirus packed a Houston church a little more than two weeks after Floyd was pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on his neck for what prosecutors said was 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Cellphone video of the encounter, including Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe,” ignited protests and scattered violence across the U.S. and around the world, turning the 46-year-old Floyd — a man who in life was little known beyond the public housing project where he was raised in Houston’s Third Ward — into a worldwide symbol of injustice.

“Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that’s where he was born at,” Floyd’s brother, Rodney, told mourners at the Fountain of Praise church. “But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world.”

The funeral capped six days of mourning for Floyd in three cities.

Following the service, Floyd’s body was to be taken by horse-drawn carriage to a cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he was to be laid to rest next to his mother.

“George Floyd was not expendable. This is why we’re here,” Democratic Rep. Al Green of Houston told the crowd. “His crime was that he was born black. That was his only crime. George Floyd deserved the dignity and respect that we accord all people just because they are children of a common God.”

While the service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside to pay their respects. Some held signs with messages including “Black Lives Matter” and “Together because of George Floyd.”

“There’s a real big change going on, and everybody, especially black, right now should be a part of that,” said Kersey Biagase, who traveled more than three hours from Port Barre, Louisiana, with his girlfriend, Brandi Pickney. They wore T-shirts printed with Floyd’s name and “I Can’t Breathe.”

Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, were led into the sanctuary by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist.

The mourners also included rapper Trae tha Truth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who brought the crowd to its feet when he announced he will sign an executive order banning chokeholds in the city.

“No child should have to ask questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: Why?” former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said in a video eulogy played at the service. “Now is the time for racial justice. That is the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”

Biden made no mention of politics. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump, who has ignored demands to address racial bias and has called on authorities crack down hard on lawlessness.

“The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police murder of George Floyd,” Sharpton said. “He challenged China on human rights. But what about the human right of George Floyd?”

The Rev. William Lawson, a contemporary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said: “Obviously the first thing we have to do is clean out the White House.”

Most of the pews were full, with relatively little space between people.

“So much for social distancing today,” the Rev. Remus Wright told mourners, gently but firmly instructing those attending to wear face masks.

With the funeral inside the church still underway, hundreds of people lined the route to the cemetery. Many said they had arrived hours ahead to secure a spot.

“We’re out here for a purpose. That purpose is because first of all he’s our brother. Second, we want to see change,” said Marcus Brooks, 47, who set up a tent along the route with other graduates of Jack Yates High School, Floyd’s alma mater. “I don’t want to see any black man, any man, but most definitely not a black man sitting on the ground in the hands of bad police.”

The funeral came a day after about 6,000 people attended a public memorial, also in Houston, waiting for hours under a baking sun to pay their respects to Floyd, whose body lay in an open gold-colored casket. Over the past six days, memorials for Floyd were also held in Minneapolis, where he lived in recent years, and Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born.

The services have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become part of the debate over race and justice — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.

In the past two weeks, amid the furor over Floyd’s death, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place: Confederate statues have been toppled, and many cities are debating overhauling, dismantling or cutting funding for police departments. Authorities in some places have barred police from using chokeholds or are otherwise rethinking policies on the use of force.

Floyd, a bouncer who had lost his job because of the coronavirus outbreak, was seized by police after being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.

Four Minneapolis officers were arrested in his death: Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with second-degree murder. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting. All four could get up to 40 years in prison.

Some of the mostly peaceful demonstrations that erupted after Floyd’s death were marked by bursts of arson, assaults, vandalism and smash-and-grab raids on businesses, with more than 10,000 people arrested. But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful.

Eau Claire approves moving fireworks to Plank Hill

A hill on the edge of Eau Claire’s downtown will be home to this year’s July 4 fireworks show, the City Council affirmed Tuesday.

Moving the fireworks show from its usual location in Carson Park is being done to deter large gatherings during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic while making it visible to more people from where they live.

“We have changed our location so residents of the city of Eau Claire don’t have to go anywhere,” community services director Jeff Pippenger said.

The Plank Hill, which is between Forest Hill Cemetery and Harding Avenue, was chosen as the launch site as it is on high ground so the fireworks could be seen from more people’s backyards than other potential locations in Eau Claire. To dissuade people from going to the cemetery to watch the fireworks, the city will block entrances to it at 5 p.m. on July 4.

Bringing fireworks to the East Side Hill Neighborhood raised debate among council members on how the noise could bother pets, children and others living in houses nearby, and bring more traffic to the area.

“I have some major concerns about lighting off these fireworks in a residential area,” Councilman Andrew Werthmann said during Tuesday afternoon’s council meeting.

While the intent of the new location is to reduce large gatherings, he argued that people from other parts of Eau Claire will still drive to get closer to the show and clog the streets near the cemetery.

“I just don’t see frankly that people are going to pull up a lawn chair in Putnam Heights and watch from their lawn,” he said.

Werthmann proposed keeping the fireworks show in Carson Park, which would require telling people who had been there for a picnic or gathering earlier on July 4 to leave before the fireworks show.

But his amended plan failed to garner enough support, failing in a 3-8 vote, as other council members voiced logistical concerns about clearing people out of a popular city park on a holiday as well as how visible the show would look from there.

“Fewer people would see them in Carson Park than this other location,” council President Terry Weld said.

He added that holding a July 4 fireworks show will be good for the community after it has been dealing with restrictions tied to the coronavirus pandemic for months.

Weld said he hopes this change is just a once-in-a-lifetime thing and next year the fireworks show can return to Carson Park to follow the family events and baseball game usually held there on July 4.

Changing the location of this year’s fireworks show to Plank Hill was approved 10-1 by the council with Werthmann casting the lone dissenting vote.

Chickenkeeping license OK’d

An East Side Hill neighborhood resident will get a license for keeping backyard chickens, the council decided Tuesday in a 10-1 vote with Councilman David Klinkhammer being the lone dissenter.

Mandi Flick had been raising hens in her backyard for several months, but neighbors complained about noise, odors and a chicken that escaped the yard on an occasion. Eau Claire City-County Health Department employees found that in addition to not having a license, Flick’s chicken coop didn’t meet all city requirements. She agreed to improve the coop and apply for a license.

Werthmann, who had led the push to allow chickens in the city, said it’s important for people to apply for a license and talk to their neighbors before bringing in the birds.

“It’s unfortunate this is the path this took,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot easier with your neighbors if you’re going though the proper procedures.”

Although the council granted its approval, city health officials still need to verify Flick has met all the criteria needed to get the license.

“All the boxes have to be checked before the health department approves a license,” assistant city attorney Jenessa Stromberger said to the council.

The city approved a law in November 2018 that allowed residents to keep up to five hens in their backyards with a city license. Usually the licenses are granted by city staff, but this was the first time it fell to the City Council to make a decision due to neighbor objections and requesting one after-the-fact.

Buildings reopen somewhat

City Hall and other municipal buildings reopened to the public this week for limited hours so people could conduct in-person business by appointment.

Visitors can call ahead to schedule an appointment to visit city buildings from 9 to 11 a.m. or 2 to 4 p.m. on weekdays, City Manager Dale Peters said.

The buildings closed to the public on March 24 as a precaution to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Many city employees have been working from their homes since then, but Peters said staff are gradually returning to their offices.

“We are having employees return in small groups,” he said.

However, he noted the city is trying to avoid having employees work close to each other while the COVID-19 pandemic remains a concern.

Other Business

Also during Tuesday’s meeting:

• A plan on how to spend $1.2 million in federal grant money coming to Eau Claire was approved by the council.

• The council issued a statement denouncing the death of George Floyd and committing to do its part to address disparities in health, social and economic prosperity.

City manager researching faster addition of police body cameras

Eau Claire city officials are talking about moving up their schedule for equipping police officers with body-worn cameras after residents have urged faster action.

City Manager Dale Peters said his staff will be researching the feasibility of whether a $805,000 project that includes police body cameras that had been slated for 2022 to 2023 could instead be done next year.

“We need to do enough research to see if it’s viable to do the work in 2021 before I would make the recommendation to move the money to 2021,” he said.

Peters is planning to have that legwork finished by the time the City Council will approve a document next month that details the city projects planned for 2021 through 2025.

The desire to speed up the purchase of the cameras comes after Eau Claire area residents spoke Monday night to the City Council.

Christina Funk, a nurse practitioner who works in Eau Claire and lives in the neighboring town of Washington, said Monday that a petition urging the city to adopt body-worn police cameras has more than 1,950 signatures.

The petition came along while several rallies on racial injustice have happened in Eau Claire in response to the May 25 death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. A Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while the man was on the ground and handcuffed. The officer and three others were fired and now face criminal charges. Protests and nationwide debates over policing policies and institutional racism were inspired by Floyd’s death.

“Following the tragic death of George Floyd there has been a community conversation,” Peters said. “We’re being responsive to interest in the community and by the council.”

Councilwoman Emily Berge said she’d received a flurry of emails on Tuesday from people who asked to “defund the police department.” During a Tuesday evening work session on the proposed projects plan, she asked if the money for cameras in 2021 would actually be boosting the police department’s budget.

“It’s not additional funding, it’s not even reprioritization of funding, but moving funding up by a year,” city finance director Jay Winzenz responded.

The $805,000 slated for 2022 and 2023 was intended to replace existing video equipment in police squad cars and interview rooms, and then add body cameras, Winzenz said.

Peters noted that it is a large project because it’s not just buying cameras, but also a whole new video recording infrastructure for them. The addition of body cameras also requires more data storage, he said, as well as staff time in the police department to maintain those records.