By Edward McAllister and Nick Carey
Family and supporters on Monday celebrated the life of Michael Brown, a black teenager slain by police in Ferguson, Missouri, with a music-filled, foot-stomping funeral service and messages to remember him not with violence but with peace.
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 in Ferguson.
Thousands of people filled the modern red-brick church and gathered outside on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis for the exuberant service, a markedly different scene from the violent protests that rocked the St. Louis suburb after the shooting of Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white officer.
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.
High-spirited music by a gospel choir and horn players filled the sanctuary, as mourners clapped their hands and danced in the aisles.
Printed in a program for the service, were letters to Brown from his parents.
“The day you were born I just know God sent me a blessing and that was you,” wrote Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden.
The letter by Michael Brown Sr. read: “I always told you I would never let nothing happen to you and that’s what hurts so much, that I couldn’t protect you.”
Readings from the Bible were met with whoops and cheers, and family members rose to speak.
“I am mad and hurt and that is a lethal combination,” said one relative. “But today is for peace and quiet. We say good journey to Michael until we meet again.”
A member of the clergy also made a plea for peace.
“We must resist the temptation to riot and loot in our neighborhood. It only gives a bad picture for the world,” he said.
APPEAL FOR CALM
Brown’s father made an appeal for calm on the eve of the services.
“All I want tomorrow is peace while we lay our son to rest,” he said at a Sunday rally against police violence that he led with civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton.
Attending the rally were the parents of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
Like the Martin shooting, Brown’s killing has focused attention on racial tension and relations in the United States. The Ferguson protests also evoked criticism of the local police force’s use of military gear and heavy-handed tactics.
Around the church on Monday, the police presence was heavy but relaxed. Authorities have braced for a possible flare-up, although clashes between protesters and police have waned significantly in recent days.
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.
In addition to Sharpton, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson was on hand for the funeral. The White House also said it was sending three presidential aides to attend the service.
A grand jury began hearing evidence on Wednesday, a process the county prosecutor said could take until mid-October.