Michael Brown, the black teen whose shooting by a white officer ignited protests and a national debate on race, has been eulogised at a cathartic funeral service 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 5000-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 is to be buried in a private ceremony in St Peter’s cemetery.
The protests in Ferguson had subsided by Monday, but the debate over Brown’s death and what it meant continued to rage.
“We have to have a conversation, people don’t want to have a conversation about race, and we need this conversation,” said Jane Brandon Brown, ambassador for the Kingdom of God international ministries.
Just days shy of starting college, Brown was walking down the street after leaving a convenience store where police say he stole a box of cigars when he was shot at least six times by white policeman Darren Wilson.
Accounts of the shooting differ widely, with police alleging Brown was trying to grab Wilson’s gun.
But witnesses, including a friend of Brown’s walking with him, said he was shot as he held his hands in the air in a clear sign of surrender.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” has become the refrain of demonstrators who for the past two weeks have gathered in Ferguson to demand an open and transparent investigation and justice.
At night, protests have at times erupted into vandalism and clashes with police, but the intensity appeared to have waned by Monday’s funeral.
On Sunday, Brown’s parents were joined at a demonstration by the father of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teen shot to death by a neighbourhood watchman in 2012 in Florida.
Parallels also have been drawn to the case of Eric Garner, who died on New York’s Staten Island on July 17 after police placed him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling illegal cigarettes.