By Jeff Wagner

HOUSTON, Tx. (WCCO) — Hundreds, if not thousands of people lined up in Texas Monday to pay their respects to a Minnesota man whose death at the hands of a police officer has been seen around the world.

George Floyd died on Memorial day two weeks ago after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. A witness recorded what happened on a cell phone, showing Floyd gasping for air and saying, “I can’t breathe.”

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It sparked protests and destruction across the Twin Cities but also calls for change in law enforcement.

By the bus load and on foot, in the midst of a pandemic and a heat index soaring above 100 degrees, people came to Fountain of Praise Church.

“This is history being made,” said Eric Coleman of Houston.

Those attending the visitation were asked to park in a lot a few minutes drive away, with shuttles ushering them to the church. Others opted to walk the short distance, despite the heat.

Julian Johnson flew down from Minnesota — joining a never ending stream of people with the same mission — many feeling a similar pain.

“I’m here because I want to pay my final respects to George Floyd,” Johnson said.

“I feel like ashamed that George had to have his life taken for it to be acknowledged, for a widespread of global acknowledgement that black lives matter,” said Janea Holbert of Houston.

She and a friend showed up well before the public visitation was set to start at noon, as did many others.

For more than six hours, mourners took turns entering the church to see George Floyd. The viewing was an open casket.

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Masks and temperature checks were mandatory before entering, with COVID-19 restrictions limiting the church to 25% capacity.

It led to long lines under the hot Houston sun, but it was a wait that people feel was worth enduring.

“It seemed like this particular death for some reason struck a chord,” Johnson said.

The show of support overwhelmed Floyd’s brother Philonise. Fighting back tears, he told a crowd of reporters, “I’m just right now appreciative of everybody coming out. It just hurts a lot just being here, just talking. It’s pain.”

Joining him were family members of other African American’s killed by police including Ahmed Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and Michael Brown.

Gwenn Carr said this specific incident was personal to her. Her son, Eric Garner, uttered the words “I can’t breathe” during his deadly arrest, just like Floyd. She said when the news cameras disappear and the spotlight fades on George’s story, it’s up to everyone to make sure his death wasn’t in vain.

“But like when my son was killed six years ago, even when the lights went out I was still fighting. This is what I tell this family, don’t stop fighting because that’s what they look for you to do,” Carr said.

By Tuesday afternoon, Floyd will be laid to rest. But his family’s quest for justice has only just begun.

“We will get it. We will not let this door close,” Philonise Floyd said.

A private funeral will be held Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. at Fountain of Praise Church. Following the service, Floyd will be taken to Houston Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Pearland, where he’ll be laid to rest next to his mother.

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Jeff Wagner