Civil rights activist Kevin McCall was among 20 or so people who marched through downtown New York City with a resounding plea Tuesday: Still, get your knee off our necks.
The demonstration, which he organized, had multiple goals, McCall said. Namely, to acknowledge that it has been a year since George Floyd died under the knee of a then-Minneapolis police officer, who is white.
But it also was to celebrate reforms in New York City and elsewhere across the country, he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
McCall's demonstration was one of several memorial events to take place Tuesday, the one year anniversary of Floyd's killing. In Minneapolis, people gathered throughout the day to remember Floyd near the site where he died, an area that has come to be known as George Floyd Square. A celebration of his life was held in Houston, where he spent most of his life. And in Washington, D.C., members of the Floyd family visited the White House to meet President Joe Biden, who called family members after Chauvin was convicted.
In New York, McCall and four others, including mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan, knelt outside the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, which connects Manhattan and New Jersey, for 9 minutes, 29 seconds — the length of time Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck. Chauvin was convicted of murder last month and is scheduled to be sentenced June 25.
The small group was arrested and charged with obstructing traffic, McCall and a police spokeswoman said. They each received a summons before their release.
"A lot still needs to be done," McCall said, a short time after he had been released from police custody. "We need to be able to pass the George Floyd Act. We need to be able to continue to root out racism in police departments across the country and in New York City."
He said the group performed what he described as "civil disobedience for justice."
"Sometimes you have to do extreme things for extreme measures to get justice," he said.
Floyd's death prompted a summer of international protests against police brutality and calls for changes in policing. It has also come to symbolize and has given momentum to the fight for racial justice.
Still, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds and limit no-knock warrants, among other police accountability reforms, has stalled in Congress, a development that has frustrated activists and members of Floyd's family.
Floyd's sister, Bridgett Floyd, did not travel to Washington to meet Biden. She and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey were among a few hundred people who gathered at The Commons park near the U.S. Bank Stadium in the city. She said she didn't meet with Biden because he hasn't delivered on his promise to enact police reform legislation named after her brother by the first anniversary of Floyd's death, The Star-Tribune reported.
"I think Biden needs to make it right," she said. "He broke his promise."
The members of Floyd's family who did meet privately with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House also called for the measure to pass.
At a brief news conference outside the White House, they expressed gratitude to Biden and Harris for meeting with them and listening to their concerns.
They said the president is committed to police reform.
Philonise Floyd, Floyd's brother, said the more than hourlong meeting "went great" and he called Biden "a genuine guy." He said that both Biden and Harris always speak from the heart.
If laws can be created to protect the bald eagle, Philonise Floyd said, "you can make federal laws to protect people of color."
Brandon Williams, Floyd's nephew, said that Biden assured them he supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but that he "wants to make sure it's the right bill and not a rushed bill." Williams said Biden told them he was unhappy that the measure hadn't been passed by the anniversary of Floyd's death.
Floyd's relatives were scheduled to meet later Tuesday with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Earlier Tuesday, Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Floyd family who also met with Biden and Harris, announced that The George Floyd Community Benevolence Fund would provide grants in the amounts of $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 to local businesses and organizations committed to positive change. The city of Minneapolis reached a $27 million settlement with Floyd's family in March that included a $500,000 donation to the community around the intersection of 38th and Chicago Avenue — now known as George Floyd Square. The $500,000 will be used toward the benevolence fund.
A tribute and balloon release is scheduled to take place Tuesday evening at Cuney Homes in the Third Ward in Houston, where Floyd spent most of his life. The event will be hosted by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. She will be joined by members of Floyd's family.