Thousands gather to remember Michael Brown, seek to turn hurt into healing
The memorial service for Michael Brown, the black teen killed two weeks ago, blended mourning and prayer with calls to channel anger into constructive action.
Thousands joined the family of Michael Brown at a St. Louis church Monday to remember the fallen teenager whose death at the hands of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer sparked days of bitter protests that have reverberated across America.
Mourners filled the 2,500-seat sanctuary of the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis and overflowed into two separate viewing rooms on Monday morning. In the participatory tradition of black Baptist churches, attendees periodically began clapping and singing along with the Missouri Jurisdictional Choir while waiting for the service to officially begin.
Friendly Temple pastor Michael Jones, along with a parade of local religious leaders, set a celebratory tone for a service designed to balance a family's sorrow with joyful prayer.
Mr. Brown's mother and father did not address the crowd, but his stepmother, Cal Brown, spoke of the family's "Mike Mike," his religious devotion and "gentle soul." Other members of the family urged attendees to take their rage to the voting booths.
The Rev. Al Sharpton gave voice to that rage, in a eulogy that implored the people of Ferguson and America to channel their anger into productive action rather than violence.
"Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot," he implored attendees. "He wants to be remembered for being the one that made America deal with how we police in the United States."
"Michael's going on to get his rest now. We're required in his name to change the country," Mr. Sharpton later added.
Monday's service drew civil rights leaders from across the country, including Martin Luther King III, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, director Spike Lee, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. President Obama sent three White House officials to the service: Broderick Johnson, chairman of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force; Marlon Marshall, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; and Heather Foster, an adviser for the office.
Also in attendance were family members of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager fatally shot in Florida by George Zimmerman in 2012; Oscar Grant, a black teenager fatally shot by law enforcement on New Year's Day 2009 in San Francisco; and Emmett Till, the black teenager murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
People from around the country flocked to the St. Louis church to pay their respects to Brown's family, including Will Acklin, a black man from Little Rock, Ark.
"It's important in that as a child I was pushed by police, mistreated by police, cursed by police, and I was a good kid," Mr. Acklin told the Associated Press. "When I heard this, I felt compelled to come here and show my respects."
Former Ferguson resident Angela Pierre expressed hope that the funeral may mark a turning point for the city and the nation.
"I really wanted to just be here today to pray for the family and pray for peace," Ms. Pierre told AP. "When all of this dies down, there's still a mother, father, and a family who's lost someone. Sometimes a lot of the unrest takes away from that."
Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. In the two weeks since the attack, the residents of Ferguson have taken to the streets in a series of sometimes-violent protests, citing Brown’s death as just one more example of Ferguson’s overwhelmingly white police force’s disregard for the lives of the city’s black residents. Mr. Wilson is white and Brown was black.
The past several nights in Ferguson have been comparatively calm as the State Highway Patrol and local residents have stood up to would-be looters and instigators.
In the days since the shooting, those who knew Brown have striven to paint the portrait of a kindhearted gentle giant and a struggling student who buckled down to finish his courses and secure his path to college.
“He was funny, silly,” Brown's father recently said. “Any problems that were going on or any situation – there wasn’t anything he couldn’t solve. He’d bring people together.”
• This report includes material from the Associated Press.