Monday 22 December 2014

Police shooting victim mourned

Published 25/08/2014 | 10:16

People gather outside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis during the funeral of Michael Brown (AP)
People gather outside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis during the funeral of Michael Brown (AP)
Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown's mother, ahead of the teenager's funeral (AP)
The casket of Michael Brown in Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for his funeral (AP/St Louis Post Dispatch)
People pay their respects outside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis

The mourners filled an enormous church to remember Michael Brown - a "gentle giant," aspiring rapper and recent high school graduate on his way to a technical college but the funeral that unfolded today was about much more than the black 18-year-old who lay in the closed coffin after being shot to death by a white police officer.

The emotional service sought to consecrate Mr Brown's death as another in the long history of the civil rights movement and implored black Americans to change their protest chants into legislation and law.

"Show up at the voting booths. Let your voices be heard, and let everyone know that we have had enough of all of this," said Eric Davis, one of Mr Brown's cousins.

The Reverend Al Sharpton called for a movement to clean up police forces and the communities they serve.

"We're not anti-police. We respect police. But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community that are wrong need to be dealt with," Mr Sharpton said.

Two uncles recalled how Mr Brown had once predicted that someday the whole world would know his name.

"He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy," Bernard Ewing said.

More than 4,500 mourners filled Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis for the service, which at times seemed like a cross between a gospel revival and a rock concert. It began with upbeat music punctuated by clapping. Some mourners danced in place.

The crowd included the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old African-American fatally shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida, along with a cousin of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old murdered by several white men while visiting Mississippi in 1955. Mr Till's killing galvanised the civil rights movement.

Also in attendance were several White House aides, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Spike Lee, entertainer Sean Combs and some children of Martin Luther King.

The Reverend Charles Ewing, the uncle who delivered the eulogy, said Mr Brown "prophetically spoke his demise." And now his blood is "crying from the ground. Crying for vengeance. Crying for justice."

Poster-size photos of Mr Brown, wearing headphones, were on each side of the coffin, which had a St Louis Cardinals ball cap on it. Large projection screens showed a photo of him clutching his high school diploma while wearing a cap and gown. Two days after his death, he had been scheduled to start training to become a heating and air conditioning technician.

Mr Sharpton also took the black community to task, saying it should be as upset about black-on-black crime as it is about police violence: "We have to be outraged by our disrespect for each other."

"Blackness," he added, "has never been about being a gangster or a thug."

Money, possessions and prestige mean little, he said, "if we can't protect a child walking down the street in Ferguson and protect him and bring justice".

Mr Brown's death fuelled nearly two weeks of street protests in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson. But his father, Michael Brown Sr, asked protesters to observe a "day of silence" today to let the family grieve.

The request appeared to be honoured. At the Ferguson Police Department, where a small but steady group of protesters have stood vigil for two weeks, a handmade sign announced a "break for funeral". This afternoon, the West Florissant Avenue commercial corridor was also devoid of protesters, whose ranks have typically swelled as days turned to nights.

After the service, Corey Thomas, a 34-year-old St Louis man said the large crowd at the church reflected "that people are tired of being treated like dogs. They're tired of being taken advantage of".

The mourners came to show their support because "it could be any one of us", Mr Thomas said.

Angela Pierre, a machine operator who once lived in Ferguson, said she hopes the funeral helps turn a page and eases tensions. Most important, though, she hopes it provides healing for Mr Brown's family.

"I really wanted to just be here today to pray for the family and pray for peace," said Ms Pierre, 48, who is black. "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."

Mr Brown was unarmed when he was shot on August 9 by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and a federal investigation is also under way.

Police have said a scuffle broke out after Mr Wilson told Mr Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a pavement. Police said Mr Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Mr Brown's arms in the air in an act of surrender. A post mortem found Mr Brown was shot at least six times.

Relatives denounced a video released by police, who say it shows Mr Brown snatching cigars from a convenience store just before he was killed. In the video, the person said to be Mr Brown is seen grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.

Family and friends said Mr Brown had a gentle, joking manner and dubbed himself Big Mike. He was good at fixing things, liked computer games, the rappers Lil Wayne and Drake, the movie Grown Ups 2, and the TV show Family Guy.

Press Association

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