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Slain Missouri Teen's Funeral Draws Thousands

  • VOA News

Lesley McSpadden reacts at the casket of her son Michael Brown during the funeral services at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, Aug. 25, 2014.

Lesley McSpadden reacts at the casket of her son Michael Brown during the funeral services at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, Aug. 25, 2014.

Mourners sang, clapped and danced on Monday at funeral services for Michael Brown, remembering the slain black teenager with words of goodwill and joy rather than the violence and outrage that followed his killing by a white police officer.

"The mood is festive inside the church as funeral goers celebrate the life of Michael Brown," a VOA reporter at the scene said. "Brown's parents said they feel blessed by the support of th ecommunity who have turned out at their son's funeral. [There were] no demonstrations and calm prevails in Ferguson. "

Unarmed Brown, 18, was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson in a confrontation on August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

Brown's body lay at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in a black and gold casket, topped with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap he was wearing when he was killed on Aug. 9.

Monday's service was held under heavy police surveillance to guard against renewed violence. Ferguson has been mostly calm in recent days following nearly two weeks of unrest.

Pastor Charles Ewing, Brown's uncle, delivered the eulogy during the service.

"There is a cry being made from the ground - not just for Michael Brown but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children in Sandy Hook elementary school, for the Columbine massacre, for the black on black crime, there is a cry being made, there is a cry being made from the ground," he said.

A number of national civil rights leaders, politicians and celebrities attended the service at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis.

Reverend Al Sharpton, who delivered remarks, said Michael Brown legacy should not be about rioting, but that he should be remembered as the one who made America face how policing is conducted in the United States.

"This is about justice. This is about fairness," Sharpton told the audience. "And America is going to have to come to terms, when there's something wrong that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, but we don't have money for training, and money for public education and money to train our children."

Sharpton said the movement for fair policing cannot be shortsighted.

"We can't have a fit, we've got to have a movement," he said. "A fit you get mad and run out for a couple of nights. A movement means we've got to be here for the long haul. And turn our chance into change, our demonstration into legislation. We have got to stay on this, so we can stop this."

In addition to Sharpton, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson was also on hand for the funeral.

Three White House officials were also in attendance, including Broderick Johnson, head of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, and Marlon Marshall and Heather Foster from the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Appeal for calm

Before the funeral, Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr., appealed for calm - asking for protests to stop during the service.

"All I want is peace while my son is laid to rest. Please, please. I'd like a day of silence so we can lay our son to rest. Please. That's all I ask. And, thank you," Brown said.

Despite a heavy police presence, many demonstrators who have kept steady vigils in Ferguson, where the August 9 incident occurred, honored that request.

Brown, 18, was just days from starting college when he was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson.

Accounts of the incident differ. Police say Brown was the aggressor during a struggle with Wilson, but witnesses say the shooting was unprovoked and that Brown was trying to surrender.

No goodbyes

Before the funeral, as hundreds of people filed into the modern red-brick church on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis, Brown's coffin was surrounded by photos of him as a child, graduating from school and smiling in his 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.

Gospel music filled the sanctuary as hundreds of people stood inside 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 St. Louis suburb of Ferguson after Brown was shot to death on Aug. 9.

Among the hundreds of people waiting outside the church was Travis Jackson, a black, 25-year-old retail store employee who said he took the day off from work to pay his respects.

"I had to be here. After all the emotions and pain of the past two weeks, this is an important moment for this community," he said. "Today I am focused on peace for Michael Brown. Tomorrow I can think about justice," he added.

Protests, arrests

More than 150 people have been arrested in Ferguson since the protests began - most of them for failing to disperse at the request of police.

Many have complained that the police response to the protests has been heavy-handed, while the shooting itself has raised allegations of institutionalized racism and excessive use of force.

The incident has highlighted the racial divide in the mostly black town of Ferguson, where almost all police and local politicians are white.

A grand jury began hearing evidence on Wednesday, a process the county prosecutor said could take until mid-October.

Related video report by Chris Simkins:

VOA's Chris Simkins contributed to this report from Ferguson, Missouri, some information for this report provided by Reuters.

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