MINNEAPOLIS — Hundreds of mourners gathered at a Minneapolis chapel on Thursday to remember George Floyd, the man whose death set off anguish and demands for changes to American policing across the country.
A giant image of a mural of Mr. Floyd was displayed at the front of the sanctuary at North Central University — an image that was painted in recent days along a Minneapolis street near where a police officer had held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, even after Mr. Floyd had said, “I can’t breathe.”
At the bottom of the image in the church were the words: “I can breathe now.” Before the service began, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz, Mayors Jacob Frey of Minneapolis and Melvin Carter of St. Paul and many others milled about, most of them wearing masks, quietly greeting each other with nods and elbow bumps.
Sprays of white flowers were placed around a shiny copper coffin, and security officials, in masks because of the coronavirus, lined the stage. Mr. Frey knelt with one hand on the coffin for minutes, his body heaving, and rose with tears on his face.
More memorial services are planned to remember Mr. Floyd in the coming days — including one on Saturday in Raeford, N.C., where some of his family lives, and on Monday in Houston, where he lived for many years.
Some seats were reserved with the names of celebrities and political leaders who were expected to attend. Among them were placards for Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Martin Luther King III.
The event was open only to invited guests and family members, but hundreds of people gathered outside the chapel under cloudy skies. Outside on the street, T-shirts with images of Mr. Floyd and “I can’t breathe” across his mouth were on sale.
“We have to be united, even with Covid,” said Yousif Hussein, 29, who was planning to attend the memorial for Mr. Floyd.
“I have to show solidarity with George Floyd,” Mr. Hussein said
The service, to be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, comes a day after enhanced charges were announced against the white police officer who wedged his knee onto Mr. Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, as well as the new charges against three other officers who participated in the arrest. All have been fired.
The State of Minnesota has filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis police force over Mr. Floyd’s death, pledging to investigate whether the department has engaged in systemic discriminatory practices.
Mr. Sharpton said he would announce a new social movement at Thursday’s memorial service and would call for federal legislation aimed at putting an end to racial injustice by the police.
Mr. Floyd’s death came after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. A video of his last moments, as three other uniformed officers did not intervene, set off protests in dozens of cities. At least six people have died in violence connected to the protests.
Mr. Floyd had been a star football and basketball player in high school in Houston, moving to Minneapolis about five years ago. Family and friends described him as happy, careful not to judge and easy to talk to.
When he returned to Houston for his mother’s funeral two years ago, he told a cousin that Minneapolis had come to feel like home.
The city he adopted already is filled with tributes and memorials; the names of other black men and women who have been killed by police officers across the country are scrawled in large pink, blue, yellow and green chalk letters on the street where Mr. Floyd was arrested.
The display is alongside a place where many of those passing through the now-famous neighborhood have gathered in recent days. J.T. McReynolds, 11, had memorized all of the names, rattling them off in a tiny voice this week as he sought shade in a car parked under a tree while he and his parents took a break from a day of protesting.
“Sean Bell. Trayvon Martin,” the boy began, and then paused. “It’s just hurtful. We’re trying to be peaceful and get justice for George Floyd.”
For nearly three months, Americans have avoided most collective outpourings of grief as fears of the coronavirus converted funerals of lost friends and family into painfully socially distanced affairs. A minister appealed to people in the sanctuary to socially distance themselves and take only every other seat. Mr. Floyd’s family entered last, occupying front rows set aside for them.
Besides Mr. Sharpton, Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who is representing some of Mr. Floyd’s family, also will speak.
Others planning to attend the memorial service was Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 when a New York police officer placed him in a fatal chokehold. His last words, “I can’t breathe” — repeated years later in another city by Mr. Floyd — galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It just feels like I’m coming to my son’s funeral again,” Ms. Carr said on Wednesday in Minneapolis. “This young man was crying for his mother at the end. That was like my son echoing from the grave saying, ‘Mama, you’ve got to do something. They’re still killing us.’”
Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura contributed reporting from Minneapolis, and Audra D. S. Burch from Hollywood, Fla.