ST. LOUIS — Relatives said goodbye Monday to the 18-year-old unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a police officer, remembering him as a “gentle soul” with a deep and growing faith in Christianity and ambitions that one day “the world would know his name.”
Thousands of mourners filled the massive Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis for the funeral, which began with upbeat music punctuated by clapping. Some mourners danced in place, and ushers passed out water and tissues.
Brown’s Aug. 9 killing ignited almost two weeks of racially charged street protests in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb.
The young man was unarmed when he was shot by officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and a federal investigation is also underway.
Police have said a scuffle broke out after Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. Police said Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown’s arms in the air — an act of surrender. An autopsy found Brown was shot at least six times.
President Barack Obama sent three White House aides to the funeral.
America’ first black president has tried to strike a balanced tone on the shooting, calling both for respect for police and reflection on the plight of young black men in American who feel unfairly targeted by law enforcement.
In the aftermath of the shooting, images of well-armed suburban police officers confronting protesters in Ferguson with tear gas and rubber bullets prompted widespread criticism of how local law enforcement agencies have used federal grants to obtain military gear from the Pentagon. Obama ordered the White House to conduct a review of those programs.
Eric Davis, one of Brown’s cousins, urged the crowd at the funeral to go to the polls and push for change, saying the community has had “enough of the senseless killings.”
Brown’s uncle, Bernard Ewing, described Brown as a “big guy, but a kind, gentle soul.” He recalled his nephew once telling the family that someday his name would be known by the wider world.
“He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy at that time,” Ewing said.
Among the mourners at the Funeral was Will Acklin, a black man who travelled from Arkansas state.
“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,” said Acklin, who is 63. “I was an honour student. When I heard this, I felt compelled to come here and show my respects.”
The church’s sanctuary, which seats about 2,500, filled quickly. Overflow rooms holding another 2,000 were full, too.
With the church at capacity, many people could not get in and instead waited outside, crowded into shady areas on a day when the temperature was expected to come close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius). Ambulance crews were on hand in case of any heat-related illnesses.
Poster-size photos of Brown, wearing headphones, were on each side of the closed casket, which had a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap atop it. Large projection screens showed a photo of Brown clutching his high school diploma while wearing his cap and gown. He had been scheduled to start training at a technical school two days after his death. He wanted to become a heating and air-conditioning technician.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., has asked protesters to take a break Monday and observe a “day of silence” so the family can grieve.
Early Monday morning, Brown’s 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.”
Family members denounced a video released by police, who say it shows Brown snatching some cigars in a convenience store just before he was killed. In the video, the person said to be Brown is seen grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.
Family and friends say Brown was an aspiring rapper who dubbed himself “Big Mike.” He was good at fixing things, liked computer games, the rapper Lil Wayne, Drake, the movie “Grown Ups 2,” and the TV show “Family Guy.”
An uncle, pastor Charles Ewing, said in his eulogy that Brown’s “blood is crying from the ground, crying for vengeance, crying for justice.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist, said that something is wrong when money is provided to give military equipment to police, but there isn’t enough money for public schools.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was in the pews, along with entertainers Sean Combs and MC Hammer, and moviemaker Spike Lee.
Also in attendance were the parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old 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. Till’s killing galvanized the civil rights movement.