The mourners filled an enormous church to remember Michael Brown — a “gentle giant,” a 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.
More than 4,500 mourners filled a church in St. Louis for the service. The crowd included the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old African-American fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, along with a cousin of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old murdered by several white men while visiting Mississippi in 1955. Till’s killing galvanized the civil rights movement.
Also in attendance were several White House aides, Jesse Jackson, and some children of Martin Luther King.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton 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.”
“Blackness,” he added, “has never been about being a gangster or a thug.”
Money and possessions prestige mean little, he said, “if we can’t protect a child walking down the street in Ferguson and protect him and bring justice.”
Brown’s death fueled nearly two weeks of street protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. But 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 for two weeks, a handmade sign announced a “break for funeral.” On Monday afternoon, the West Florissant Avenue commercial corridor was also devoid of protesters, whose ranks have typically swelled as days turned to nights.
Brown was unarmed when he was shot Aug. 9 by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and a federal investigation is also underway.
Relatives denounced a video released by police, who say it shows Brown snatching cigars from a convenience store just before he was killed. In the video, the person said to be Brown is seen grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.