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Thousands pay tribute to George Floyd as calls for US police reform grow

Thousands of American mourners have paid tribute to George Floyd, whose death at the hands of a white US police officer ignited nationwide protests against US police violence and mistreatment of African Americans.

Mourners streamed into a church in Houston, Texas to honor African-American Floyd as US-wide protests over his death entered a third week.

This was a final stage in a series of ceremonies paying tribute to Floyd before he is laid to rest in his hometown on Tuesday.

The 46-year-old died after Derek Chauvin, the white officer, knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground for nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.

His death unleashed protests against police brutality and for racial justice in the US and many world countries.

The Floyd protests, which came amid pent-up despair and anger inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic that has hit US minority communities especially hard, deepened a political crisis for President Donald Trump as he threatened to deploy the military into the streets to put down the protests.

Protesters clamored for an end to police brutality, saying they were hopeful that Floyd’s death would mark a turning point in race relations, police aggression and a lightning rod for change in the way police departments function across the US.

The Houston procession came as pressure mounted in Congress and across the United States for sweeping reforms to the justice system and US police.

US Democrats push for police reforms

Democrats in Congress unveiled a police reform bill, which would make it easier to prosecute officers for abuse and allow victims to sue law enforcement for damages in civil court, ending a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity.

The Justice in Policing Act would ban chokeholds and place new restrictions on the use of lethal force.

The legislation, however, does not call for US police departments to be de-funded or abolished as activists have demanded sweeping cuts to law enforcement budgets.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump “is appalled by the defund-the-police movement.”

Joe Biden, who is challenging Trump in the November election, also opposes the movement to defund police departments but supports the “urgent need” for reform, his spokesman said.

Biden met with Floyd’s relatives for more than an hour in Houston on Monday, according to the family’s lawyer.

US anti-racism protests continue across several states

Demonstrators gathered in mainly peaceful rallies in New York, Portland, and Phoenix, decrying the killing of Floyd.

A mass demonstration was also held in Los Angeles near a memorial for a number of people killed by police.

In Seattle, Washington, officers used stun grenades and pepper spray to disperse people, after they tried to set up barricades outside the city’s capitol.

In the state of Oregon, thousands of protesters shut down Portland’s interstate highway as part of their ongoing campaign to denounce police racism, saying they will stop their rallies only after concrete reforms end police violence.

600 rights groups urge UN probe into US police brutality 

Relatives of victims and activist groups called on the United Nations to launch an investigation into police violence and repression of protests in the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and World Organization against Torture (OMCT) were among some 600 groups that signed a letter that called for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The Geneva forum, which is due to meet from June 15, can hold a special session if requested by one-third of its 47 member states. The United States quit the forum two years ago alleging an anti-Israel bias.

The death of George Floyd was “only one of a recent string of unlawful killings of unarmed black people by police and armed white vigilantes,” the letter said.

 “We are deeply concerned about the escalation in violent police responses to largely peaceful protests in the United States, which included the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and in some cases live ammunition, in violation of international standards on the use of force and management of assemblies,” added the letter.

The groups voiced concern that “rather than using his position to serve as a force for calm and unity, President Trump has chosen to weaponize the tensions through his rhetoric”. They also denounced the deployment of more than 60,000 National Guard members in two dozen US states.

They said recent police killings of unarmed black people as well as police use of excessive force violate US obligations under major international human rights treaties, calling for the right to peaceful assembly and protest to be protected.

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