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.