Michael Brown's funeral: Hope, tears and a call for social change

POOL
Monday, August 25, 2014 - 8:03pm

The funeral of slain Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Michael Brown was a celebration of his life, a search for meaning in his death and a battle cry to change policing in America.

The Rev. Al Sharpton delivered one of two eulogies during the service Monday, and he had sharp words for those who looted stores and clashed with police after the teenager was shot.

"You don't understand that Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot. He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal with how we're going to police in the United States."

With a call to action, Sharpton criticized police who pointed rifles at peaceful protesters in Ferguson. "We have to leave here today and change this," he said.

He urged mourners at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church to respect the Brown family's wish for silence Monday. And when protests resume, Sharpton said "they've asked for it to be peaceful. If you can't control yourself, then don't do it in Michael's name. Do it in your own name."

Brown's great-uncle, the Rev. Charles Ewing, drew parallels between the teenager's life, death and Scripture during his eulogy on behalf of the family.

"Michael Brown's blood is crying from the ground, crying for vengeance, crying for justice," he said. "There is a cry being made from the ground, not just for Michael Brown but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, for the Columbine massacre, for the black-on-black crime."

Family members and friends reflecting on their memories of "Mike Mike" recalled him saying, "One day, the world will know my name."

"Michael was a big guy, but he was a kind, gentle soul, and before he left this Earth, the day that he was killed, he was out spreading the word of Jesus Christ," a family friend said.

They urged the crowd of thousands of mourners to "show up at the voting polls," because "we have had enough to of seeing our brothers and sisters killed in the streets."

"If we had more of this," one family member said, referring to the audience and then motioning to Brown's casket, "we could have less of this. It shouldn't have took this to get us together like this."

A message of hope to a full sanctuary

Bishop Edwin Bass of the Church of God in Christ told the Brown family that he, too, lost a child to violence on the streets of St. Louis.

"While this tragic loss will always be with you, the step-by-step, one foot in front of the other march of time will ultimately bring you to a divine place where you will laugh again, you will find the joy of living again, as your thinking shifts from tragedy to the joyful reflection of good times."

Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, wiped away tears as she stood at the coffin that holds her son's body.

She wrote a letter to her son published in the funeral program that said in part, "I never want this to go unsaid, there are no words to express how much you mean to me. A son like you, I thought could never be. Because the day you were born, I just know, God sent me a blessing -- and that was you."

His father, Michael Brown Sr., wrote his own letter, saying, "I always told you I will never let nothing happen to you. And that's what hurt sooooooo much, that I couldn't protect you but we love you. I will never let you die in my heart, you will always live forever."

The sanctuary, which holds 2,500 people, was filled, and an overflow auditorium was also full. It was estimated by reporters at the service that another 2,000 people were on church property for the funeral in addition to those in the sanctuary.

Retired mail carrier Hilliard Phillips, who once delivered on the street where Brown was killed, was among the mourners. He said there's power in numbers, and he hoped the outpouring of support for Brown and his family would spur society to take a look at itself.

"You can't really overnight change the behavior of a person, but sometimes they can be coerced in a sweet way. ... I would hope they could see people coming together in a solemn way to show their respect to someone," he said.

Following the service, scores of motorcycles ridden by mourners accompanied the funeral procession that carried Brown's body to St. Peter's Cemetery in St. Louis.

T-shirts and buttons memorializing Michael Brown

Brown's death on August 9 sparked days of sometimes violent protests in the St. Louis suburb and concern over race and police shootings across the country. In the past several days, things have calmed down, and the town is slowly coming back to life.

Among the guests at the service were Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Bernice King; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; the families of Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell; and celebrities Spike Lee, Diddy and Snoop Lion.

The White House sent three officials to the funeral. One of them was Broderick Johnson, who leads the White House's My Brother's Keeper Task Force. He was joined by Marlon Marshall, a St. Louis native who attended high school with Brown's mother, and Heather Foster. Marshall and Foster are part of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, however, did not attend.

"The governor has communicated to attorneys representing the family of Michael Brown that he will not be attending today's funeral out of respect for the family, who deserve time to focus on remembering Michael and grieving their loss," spokesman Scott Holste said before the service.

A tense tranquility

One sign of a return to normality: Children in the Ferguson-Florissant School District finally started school Monday. The first day had been scheduled for August 18 but was delayed a week because of looting and protests, reported CNN affiliate KMOV.

Two weeks after the shooting sparked violent protests, the mood turned more tranquil over the weekend, with smaller crowds and lots of music. Gone were police in riot gear and defiant protesters. The tear gas, rubber bullets and Molotov cocktails were nowhere to be seen, either.

In their place were clusters of officers, hanging around businesses, chatting with one another.

Race has been at the forefront of the tensions; Brown was African-American, and the officer who shot him is white.

Two investigations -- one federal and one run by state prosecutors -- are in the early stages of trying to determine what led up to the shooting.

Investigators are grappling with witness statements that include shifting and contradictory stories, and some who appear to be reciting accounts of what they've seen in the media, two law enforcement sources told CNN.

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