ST. LOUIS — His gold-and-black coffin was topped by a baseball cap, a palpable, personal reminder of the young man who was fatally shot by a police officer only weeks ago. But the calls from the pulpit were for Michael Brown’s memory to live on in a broad movement for justice, for voter participation, and for answers to vexing and unending questions about race and policing.
“There is a cry being made from the ground, not just for Michael Brown, but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, for the Columbine massacre, for the black-on-black crime,” the Rev. Charles Ewing, Brown’s uncle, told 2,500 people packed into the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church here on Monday for a funeral attended by family members but also by people Brown had never met: celebrities, representatives from the White House, members of Congress, civil rights leaders, and hundreds of residents.
Infused with Scripture and song, the funeral was a mix of intimate reflections and national policy plans. Relatives reminisced in choked voices about Brown’s wide smile as a picture from his high school graduation flashed on two wide screens, and leaders urged those gathered to memorialize Brown’s life by carrying forward a vocal, strong, and unified effort to seek change across the country.
“Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, reflecting on the sometimes violent demonstrations that followed Brown’s shooting by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson on Aug. 9. “He must be remembered for: This is where they started changing what was going on. Oh yeah, there have been other times in history that became seminal moments, and this is one of those moments. And this young man, for whatever reason, has appealed to all of us that we’ve got to solve this and not continue this.”
Sharpton denounced what he called the militarization of the police and how they had treated Brown, who was black and unarmed. Sharpton exhorted the crowd, calling on the African-American community here to push for change instead of “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.”
“All of us are required to respond to this,” Sharpton said. “And all of us must solve this.”
People from all walks of life came: in pumps and dresses but also in jeans and T-shirts bearing Brown’s image; from Ferguson and faraway; old and young — even some infants were bobbed up and down through 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 black-on-black crime.’
An array of well-known figures filled one part of the church, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson; the film director Spike Lee; T.D. Jakes, the bishop of The Potter’s House, an African-American megachurch; members of Congress; two children of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other families of young people who have been killed.
Brown’s family had called for a halt to protests on Monday in recognition of the funeral, and those leading the service urged the crowd not to be part of violent protests or looting in the future. “It is imperative that we resist the temptation to retaliate by looting and rioting in our own neighborhoods,” said Bishop Edwin Bass of the Church of God in Christ in St. Louis, as some in the church cheered and called out, “Yes!”
“The destruction of property in Ferguson only gives bad pictures to the world,” the bishop said, later adding: “This is a day to immerse the family in the warm affection and abiding peace of the beloved community.”
At one point during the service, men from an overflow room across the street from the church ran into the street and began loudly chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” words that have become a refrain here since Brown’s death. But a woman screamed back: “Be quiet. Be quiet. Respect that family,” and the men quieted.
Around the area, some schools reopened on Monday, after delays because of the demonstrations. Officials reported good attendance levels and relatively smooth starts .
Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson after the officer encountered Brown and a friend walking down the middle of the street and told them to move off the road. The friend, Dorian Johnson, said that Wilson grabbed his friend’s neck and shirt and that Brown tried to push the officer off of him. The police have said that Brown and Wilson struggled over the officer’s gun. Autopsies showed that Brown was shot six times, twice in the head.
After the service, hundreds of family members, friends, and supporters of Brown huddled under and around a green tent at St. Peter’s Cemetery as Brown’s coffin was lowered into a copper-lined cement vault.
“We shall overcome,” the mourners softly sang at one point.
“We love you, Mike Mike,” someone cried. Others sobbed.
Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, returned to the vault by herself after everyone else had left. She touched it, then stood over the inscription: “Michael OD Brown; 1996-2014.”