More than 4,500 mourners packed a Missouri church Monday for the funeral of Michael Brown, who was remembered as a "gentle soul" who predicted before his death that "one day the world will know his name." Activists, politicians, celebrities and ordinary citizens came together to honor the 18-year-old who was shot to death by a police officer on Aug. 9, sparking two weeks of protest and re-igniting a national debate on police and race. His parents listened quietly and tearfully near a casket topped with a baseball cap as a parade of speakers shared memories of the teen and delivered thunderous cries for justice.
"Michael was a big guy but a kind, gentle soul," said his cousin, Eric Davis. He said that when Brown told his family that he would be well-known one day, "he did not know that he was offering up a divine prophecy." His stepmother, Cal Brown, said that in the days before he was killed, he confided that he was having dreams about death. "His death is not in vain," she said. An uncle, Pastor Charles Ewing, spoke about the blood left on the street where Brown was shot at least times by Officer Darren Wilson. "Michael Brown's blood is crying from the ground, crying for vengeance, crying for justice," he said in his eulogy.
The funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis drew boldfaced names like filmmaker Spike Lee and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, relatives of other police-shooting victims, three representatives from the White House and strangers who stood in line for hours to pay their respects. "You get a lot of crowds if there's megastar or sports star who passes away. All the big shots come," said Douglas Ashford, 70, a retired iron worker who drove two hours from Illinois. "I'm just me, but I'm proud to be here."
The crowd of 4,500 was brought to its feet by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the activist and MSNBC host, who said Brown's killing was a wakeup call for the black community and the entire nation. "All of us are required to respond to this," he thundered. "We can't have a fit. We have to have a movement." Sharpton chided both protesters who had turned violent and the military-style response of police. "Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot," said Sharpton. "He wants to be remembered as the one who made us deal with how we are going to police in the United States."
Brown's family called for a "day of silence" without the protests that turned the suburb of Ferguson into a flashpoint for racial tensions. Relatives who spoke asked for peace but also expressed outrage about the shooting, which is the subject of a grand jury investigation. "I would be lying if I said I didn't have anger in my heart," said Brown's uncle, Bernard Ewing.
— John Brecher and Tracy Connor
First published August 25 2014, 7:03 AM