ST. LOUIS (AP) — The mourners filled an enormous church to remember Michael Brown — recalling him as a “gentle giant,” aspiring rapper and recent high school graduate on his way to a technical college.
But the funeral that unfolded Monday was about much more than the black 18-year-old who lay in the closed casket after being shot to death by a white police officer. The emotional service sought to consecrate 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 Brown’s cousins.
The Rev. 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,” Sharpton said.
Two uncles remembered how 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 people danced in place.
Brown, who was to be buried in a St. Louis cemetery, was unarmed when he was killed. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and a federal investigation is also underway.
Police have said a scuffle broke out Aug. 9 after officer Darren Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Police said Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown’s arms in the air in an act of surrender. An autopsy found he was shot at least six times.
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.”
Money and possessions mean little, he said, “if we can’t protect a child walking down the street in Ferguson” and bring justice.
Brown’s death fueled nearly two weeks of sometimes-violent street protests in Ferguson. His father, Michael Brown Sr., asked protesters to observe a “day of silence” Monday to let the family grieve.
The request appeared to be honored. At the Ferguson Police Department, where a small but steady group of protesters have stood vigil, a handmade sign announced a “break for funeral.”