ST LOUIS: Michael Brown, the black teen whose shooting by a white officer ignited protests and a national debate on race, was eulogised at a cathartic funeral service yesterday as a victim of abusive policing whose untimely death demands justice.
Brown’s family bid farewell to the 18-year-old with gospel hymns and fiery orations that rocked a packed Baptist church not far from the St Louis suburb of Ferguson where he was killed August 9.
“All of us are required to respond to this. And all of us must solve this,” said the Reverend Al Sharpton, who delivered an impassioned speech that drew shouts of agreement from the mourners.
“This is not about you. This is about justice. This is about fairness. And America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong,” the civil rights activist added.
People filled the 5,000-seat Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for a service that drew activists and religious leaders, as well as the Brown family and their friends.
Brown’s closed bronze casket was flanked by large portraits of him as a young man and smaller ones showing him as a baby. A
St Louis Cardinals baseball cap was placed on the coffin next to a large bouquet of red roses.
Relatives and friends remembered him as a “gentle giant” who turned to religion in his last days and had premonitions of his own death.
But Sharpton brought the service back to the fatal act that riveted the nation and reopened old wounds of racial discrimination and distrust.
He recalled the scene after the shooting: “Michael Brown, 18-year-old boy, laid out in the street, hour and a half before the detective came. Another hour or so before they came in remove his body. Family couldn’t come through the ropes. Dogs sniffing through. What did you do?”
Brown, Sharpton said, would not want to be remembered for the riots that erupted after his death but rather “as the one that made America deal with how we are going to police in the United States.”
Absent from the service was Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who was asked by the family to stay away.
After the funeral service, Brown was to be buried in a private ceremony in St Peter’s cemetery.