ST. LOUIS — During a deeply religious service for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager shot by a white police officer more than two weeks ago, the Rev. Al Sharpton criticized the militarization of the police and how they had treated Brown while calling on the African-American community to push for change instead of “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.”
Sharpton was one of several speakers who sounded political notes during the 2 1/2-hour service and exhorted mourners to work for justice not just for Brown but for others, long after the funeral was over.
The Rev. Charles Ewing, Michael Brown’s uncle, said, “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 black on black crime.”
On Sunday, the family of Brown had asked for quiet during the funeral, which was expected to draw thousands of people including an array of national, community and political leaders and members of Brown’s extended family. The fatal shooting triggered weeks of protests and severe police reaction in Ferguson, where Brown was shot and killed.
Several speakers also echoed pleas from Brown’s family that the community refrain from protesting Monday.
The marches in Ferguson have grown calmer and smaller in recent days, and at a rally Sunday, Michael Brown Sr. asked the community to come together Monday.
“All I want is peace while my son is being laid to rest,” he said.
The family has discouraged any suggestion that the funeral might mark a renewed eruption of violence. The funeral coincides with the return to school — delayed because of the unrest — of students in the Ferguson area.
Outside the church Monday, one man was selling T-shirts with the slogan “Hands up don’t shoot,” while another was handing out leaflets for a candidate for a city political position. Local television news focused on the arrival of celebrities, including movie director Spike Lee and radio host Tom Joyner.
The funeral was to be a personal moment of mourning for those closest to Brown, but also, some demonstrators here said, a time of reflection for those who never knew him but have come to view him as a symbol.
Brown, who had just graduated from high school, was shot to death Aug. 9 after a confrontation with an officer, Darren Wilson, along a curving street in Ferguson, a mostly black city where the police force is mostly white. The police described the incident as a physical altercation between the two men that left Wilson with a swollen face; others have deemed it a case of needless police aggression and racial profiling. State and federal investigations are underway.
While Brown was little known beyond his sphere of friends and relatives before his death, his funeral was expected to draw a large crowd from this region and beyond. Brown’s family members have said they want the general public to be included in the events, their representatives said, a reflection of the support that so many strangers have offered.
At least three White House officials planned to be there, including Broderick Johnson, assistant to the president, White House Cabinet secretary and chairman of the My Brother’s Keeper task force; Heather Foster, an adviser for the White House Office of Public Engagement; and Marlon Marshall, a deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement who attended high school with Brown’s mother. Scott Holste, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon, said he would not attend the services “out of respect for the family, who deserve time to focus on remembering Michael and grieving their loss.”
Events are to be followed with a funeral procession to a cemetery, St. Peter’s, and a repast.