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'His death is not in vain': Mourners pay respects to Michael Brown

Pastors, civil rights leaders and celebrities come together at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church

Hundreds of people gathered Monday to pay their final respects to Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer earlier this month. The ceremony was accompanied by calm on the streets of Ferguson — contrasting with the turmoil in the aftermath his death — but provided the opportunity for civil rights advocates to again push for justice regarding the shooting and an end to police brutality. 

Pastors and civil rights leaders joined Brown's parents at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis to commemorate the young man's life. Earlier his father, Michael Brown Sr., called for a day of peace in honor of his son. 

The city of Ferguson appeared to the heed those words, with no signs of unrest and children returning to school, after the start of classes was delayed from last week out of concern for student safety.

At the red-brick church at which mourners were gathered, Brown’s coffin was surrounded by photos of him as a child, graduating from school and smiling in his St. Louis Cardinals cap.

“There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in our hearts,” read a sign accompanying one of the photos. 

Among those who spoke at the service was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who used a eulogy to make a plea for some good to come out of the teenager’s death.

“Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for riots,” Sharpton said. “He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal with how we’re going to police in the United States.”

He also called on the black community to end the kind of street violence and looting that has put Ferguson in a negative light. 

“We have to be outraged for our disrespect for each other,” he said. “Some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go. Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug. Blackness was no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

He noted that Brown should be in his second week at college. Instead he was being buried. “It is out of order for children to be buried by their parents,” he added. 

Cal Brown, Brown’s stepmother, recounted a conversation with him in which he told her, “The world is going to know my name.”

“He just wanted so much,” she said. “God chose differently. His death is not in vain. He’s not a lost soul.”

Gospel music filled the sanctuary as hundreds of people stood in the church, many dancing, singing and clapping. Outside, gatherers sang the civil rights hymn “We Shall Overcome,” in a scene markedly different from the violent protests that rocked the Ferguson after Brown was shot to death on Aug. 9.

His killing, which occurred during a confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, sparked days of racially charged demonstrations that occasionally spilled over into sporadic violence and looting. Brown’s death and the subsequent police crackdown on protests have sparked a national conversation on America’s racial divide and the militarization of U.S. police forces.

The service concluded with pastors praying for Michael Brown’s family and for the country. “We would ask you [God] today that our country would have the kind of justice, liberty and experience that is not defined by ZIP codes or salaries or incomes,” prayed T.D. Jakes, founder of the Potter’s House church in Dallas. 

Click here for more coverage of Flashpoint: Ferguson.

The White House sent three presidential aides to the service, and several members of Congress were also there. Movie director Spike Lee was also in attendance.

Gov. Jay Nixon — whose handling of Brown’s death has been criticized — said earlier Monday he would not attend the funeral out of respect the Brown family.

On Sunday evening Michael Brown Sr. said at a rally against police violence that he led on Sunday with Sharpton, “All I want tomorrow is peace while we lay our son to rest. Please, that’s all I ask.”

A state of emergency remained in effect in Ferguson, though authorities noted that police had made only a few arrests in the protest area in the past two nights. On Sunday evening, only a handful of people gathered at the site of recent demonstrations, greatly outnumbered by a police presence.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., who was expected to speak at the funeral, said he promised Brown’s parents he would push for a transparent investigation into his death. “I’m more concerned that if we do not get to the truth and get to what actually happened and bring justice to this situation, then there’s going to be a problem in the streets,” he said.

A grand jury began hearing evidence on Wednesday — a process the county prosecutor said could take until mid-October. The jury will determine whether Wilson should be charged.

Federal authorities have launched an independent investigation into Brown’s death.

The American Civil Liberties Union last week obtained the St. Louis County police incident report on the shooting death after suing for the document and posted an image of the report, which was largely blank — listing only the date, time and location of Brown’s death.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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