ST. LOUIS: The black teenager whose shooting by a white officer ignited protests and revived the race debate in the United States was eulogized Monday as a victim of abusive policing whose untimely death demands justice.
During a cathartic funeral service that drew thousands of people, Michael Brown’s family bid farewell to the 18-year-old with gospel hymns and fiery orations that rocked a packed Baptist church near the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where he was killed on August 9.
Civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton made a plea in his eulogy for some good to emerge from Brown’s death.
“All of us are required to respond to this. And all of us must solve this,” he said in an impassioned speech that drew shouts of agreement from mourners.
“This is not about you. This is about justice. This is about fairness. And America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong.”
Activists, religious leaders, senior officials and politicians joined the Brown family and friends to fill the 5,000-seat Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church.
Brown’s closed bronze casket was flanked by large portraits of him as a young man and smaller ones showing him as a baby. A St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap was placed on the coffin next to a large bouquet of red roses.
As the funeral procession headed out of the church with the coffin, crowds of people who had been waiting for three hours or more in the searing heat jumped over a fence to march alongside Brown’s body as it was brought to its final resting place for a private burial.
Relatives and friends remembered Brown as a “gentle giant” who turned to religion in his last days and had premonitions of his own death.
Brown’s stepmother Cal Brown recalled a conversation she had with him during which he said the world would know his name.
“He just wanted so much,” she said. “God chose differently and I’m at peace about that. His death is not in vain. He’s not a lost soul.”
But Sharpton brought the service back to the fatal act that riveted the United States and reopened old wounds of racial discrimination and distrust, particularly between African Americans and the police.
He recalled the scene after the shooting: “Michael Brown, 18-year-old boy, laid out in the street. Hour and a half before the detective came. Another hour or so before they came and removed his body. Family couldn’t come through the ropes. Dogs sniffing through. What did you do?”
Brown, Sharpton said, would not want to be remembered for the nearly two weeks of protests — some violent — that erupted in Ferguson after his death, but rather “as the one that made America deal with how we are going to police in the United States.”
Absent from the service was Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who was asked by the family to stay away.
The protests in Ferguson have subsided, but the debate over Brown’s death and what it meant continue to rage.
“We have to have a conversation, people don’t want to have a conversation about race, and we need this conversation,” said Jane Brandon Brown, ambassador for the Kingdom of God international ministries.
Just days shy of starting college, Brown was walking down the street after leaving a convenience store where police say he stole a box of cigars when he was shot at least six times by white policeman Darren Wilson.
Accounts of the shooting differ widely, with police alleging Brown was trying to grab Wilson’s gun.
But witnesses, including a friend of Brown’s walking with him, said he was shot as he held his hands in the air in a clear sign of surrender.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” has become the refrain of demonstrators who are demanding an open and transparent investigation — and justice.
At night, protests have at times erupted into vandalism and clashes with police, but the intensity appeared to have waned by the time of the funeral.
On Sunday, Brown’s parents were joined at a demonstration by the father of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teen shot to death, by a neighborhood watchman in 2012 in Florida.
Parallels also have been drawn to the case of Eric Garner, an African American who died on New York’s Staten Island on July 17 after police placed him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling illegal cigarettes.
A grand jury in St. Louis is charged with deciding whether to bring charges against the 28-year-old police officer Wilson, who is on paid leave.
During the protests, authorities used battle-grade hardware — including assault rifles, stun grenades and body armor — sparking criticism of an overly aggressive approach.