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A Metro Detroit congresswoman promised that lawmakers would take up police reforms after attending a memorial service Thursday for George Floyd, the unarmed black man whose death in police custody last week sparked outrage around the world.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat,was among the crowd of mournersat the private service at the downtown Minneapolis campus of North Central University, where Floyd's family was joined by civil rights leaders, celebrities, professional athletes and others.

"It’s time for America to take its knee off the necks of African Americans," Lawrence said after the service, evoking the eulogy delivered by civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Mourners stood for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence — the length of time that Floyd was pressed to the pavement under the control of police, prosecutors say. 

"It seemed like an eternity," Lawrence said. "During that time, you think about if someone had their knee on your throat. People were crying. Some people were crying out, 'I can't breathe.' Some were saying, 'Mama' — to make you feel the pain of that. It was awful." 

Floyd’s death May 25 ignited mostly peaceful protests in communities around the country condemning police brutality, racism and decades of unequal treatment of black Americans. Demonstrations in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids at times turned violent with hundreds of arrests. 

The congresswoman said she wanted to be part of Thursday's memorial to stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters demanding justice for Floyd, as well as "every African American killed at the hands of law enforcement.”

"I’m a huge cheerleader for community policing and our police officers, having been a mayor, and how important they are to a community’s standing and quality of life," said Lawrence, the former mayor of Southfield.

"But when you have bad actors, you have to have ways to address it."

One reform under discussion in the Democratic-led House, she said, is putting a Justice Department commission in charge of reviewing excessive force by police, rather than leaving it to the internal review and discipline by police departments.

Floyd's death was ruled a homicide, caused by either asphyxiation or heart failure, when police restrained him on the pavement for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded that he couldn't breathe.

The former officer who held his knee against Floyd's neck has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other fired Minneapolis police officers were charged this week with aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.

Prior to the service, Lawrence and a half-dozen other members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited the site at the Minneapolis intersection where Floyd died. 

"We as a Black Caucus kneeled at that site and we prayed," she said. "Oh my goodness, it just rips at your heart. You watch the video, but to be in that spot is heart-wrenching." 

Sharpton proclaimed it was time for black people to demand, “Get your knee off our necks!”

“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks. Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” Sharpton said.

“It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!’”

Sharpton vowed it will become a movement to “change the whole system of justice.”

“Time is out for not holding you accountable! Time is out for you making excuses! Time is out for you trying to stall! Time is out for empty words and empty promises! Time is out for you filibustering and trying to stall the arm of justice!” he said.

Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who attended Thursday's service included Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. 

Lawrence co-chairs the Democratic Women's Caucus and is the only black member of Michigan's congressional delegation. 

“There’s got to be an acknowledgment that something is wrong. Some are calling for peace, reconciliation and repentance. Others are saying, 'Be quiet, shut up, go home.' That’s like the knee on your neck,” Lawrence said.

“I’m talking about Donald Trump. He acknowledged that what happened was awful and that’s it. He’s not talked about what should be done. He’s had no criticism of the police officers," she said. 

"Does he understand why people not only in the United States but around the world are appalled by this and speaking out? He’s tone deaf right now. He’s putting more fences around the White House.”

Trump has said Floyd's death was a tragedy but suggested the protests were professionally managed, and called for states to "dominate" protesters and arrest those who caused chaos and destruction. 

A funeral for Floyd is to be held next week in Houston. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

The Associated Press contributed

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