By Edward McAllister
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Family and supporters of Michael Brown celebrated the life of the black teenager slain by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in a music-filled funeral service on Monday ringing with calls for peace and police reforms.
Brown’s home suburb, which had seen riots since his shooting, was peaceful after the ceremony and late into the evening, though police said another demonstration was planned later on Tuesday.
Brown’s death on Aug. 9 focused global attention on the state of race relations in the United States and evoked memories of other racially-charged cases, including the fatal shooting of black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.
People jammed inside the modern red-brick church and gathered outside on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis for Monday’s service.
The 18-year-old’s coffin was surrounded by photos of him as a child, graduating from school and smiling in his baseball cap.
Spirited gospel music by a choir and horn players filled the sanctuary, and mourners clapped their hands and danced in the aisles. Readings from the Bible were met with whoops and cheers.
“It was real spiritual,” said Mike Montgomery, a black city employee who said he took the day off from work to attend.
“I usually hear more mourning at a funeral,” said Montgomery, 38. “I think the family wanted a celebration. That’s why they had the upbeat music.”
Printed in a program for the service were letters from his parents to their late son.
A 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.”
Afterwards, the funeral procession carried Brown’s casket to St. Peter’s Cemetery, a few miles from Brown’s home, where it was loaded onto a horse-drawn carriage.
Michael Brown Sr. cried at his son’s grave site and let out a scream before leaving. His mother arrived with a separate group. She laid her body across his coffin as she wept.
CALL FOR JUSTICE
A grand jury has begun hearing evidence in the shooting and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.
In a eulogy for Brown, civil rights activist Al Sharpton demanded a fair and impartial investigation into the shooting and an end to police brutality.
“Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for riots,” Sharpton said. “He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal with how we’re going to police in the United States.”
He also called on the black community to end the kind of street violence and looting that cast Ferguson in a negative light.
“We have to be outraged for our disrespect for each other,” he said. “Some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.
“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug. Blackness was no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow,” he said.
Outside, under the hot midday sun, the police presence was heavy but relaxed. Authorities had braced for a possible flare-up, although clashes between protesters and police have waned significantly in recent days.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told a news conference late on Monday that the evening had passed peacefully. A march was scheduled for late Tuesday afternoon, Johnson said.
In differing accounts of Brown’s shooting, police have said he struggled with Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed him. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
(Additional reporting by Adrees Latif and Carey Gillam; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Andrew Heavens)