By Kurtis Lee, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
FERGUSON, Mo. — Relatives of Michael Brown urged mourners Monday to turn their anger into a catalyst for change as thousands attended the funeral for Brown, an unarmed black man whose death at the hands of a white police officer has focused attention on what protesters say is racial profiling by law enforcement.
“Michael was a big guy, but he was a kind, gentle soul,” said one of several family members who spoke to those gathered inside the packed Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis.
“I love you Mike. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Bernard Ewing, another relative, said as he choked back tears.
The casket containing the body of Brown sat at the front of the church as ushers guided mourners to their seats. Large photographs of Brown flanked the black-and-gold casket. A huge bouquet of red roses and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap sat atop it.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, wearing a cardinal red dress, stood for several minutes at the casket before going to her seat. A single tear ran down her face, and she shook her head back and forth as if in disbelief, oblivious to the crush of people filing into the service.
They included the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Al Sharpton; filmmaker Spike Lee; actor Wesley Snipes; Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).
But it was the regular citizens who formed the bulk of the mourners. Many did not know Brown, who was 18, or his family personally but spoke of them and wept as if they were family.
“This is just so, so heartbreaking,” said Monica Jackson, one of the mourners. “They shouldn’t be burying this boy. He should be going to college. Not to a cemetery.”
A line of several hundred people stretched outside the church hours before the doors opened — women in church hats, men in suits and ties, occasionally singing “We Shall Overcome” as they waited during the sweltering, muggy morning.
“We love you!” members of the crowd shouted as McSpadden emerged from a limousine and entered the church.
Greg Davis, 57, of Ferguson, was among the first in line at the church.
Davis said he knows Brown’s great-uncle, who was to deliver the eulogy, and that he had come to support the Brown family and to draw attention to police brutality and racial profiling — the problems that protesters have said led Officer Darren Wilson to shoot Brown.
“Change starts with us as a community,” Davis said, gesturing to police nearby as he stood outside the church about 7 a.m. “Justice for me is to stop profiling us. I would love to see them walk the beat, get to know the residents. Right now, it’s hard for me to call them.”
Davis wore a pin with Brown’s picture that read simply: “Justice.” Other mourners wore brown T-shirts printed with the refrain that has become the rallying call for protesters: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Witnesses have said Brown had his hands up and was trying to surrender when Wilson shot him on Aug. 9. Police have said Brown attacked Wilson and that the officer fired in self-defense. A grand jury began hearing evidence in the case Aug. 20.
Davis said he had been thinking a lot about the video, widely shown on TV and social media, of Brown’s body lying in the middle of the street for hours after the shooting. The image has angered some protesters who said it smacked of disrespect for Brown.
“That’s something I can forgive,” Davis said. “Some people can’t.”
Indeed, marches have continued nightly on Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue, near the shooting scene, since Brown’s death. Lately they have been peaceful, with no signs of the looting or tear-gas lobbed by heavily armed police — images that stunned the city and the nation in the days immediately following Brown’s killing.
But marchers have said they will not stop their protests and hope that Brown’s death serves as a catalyst for change in a community that they say has long needed it.
Eric Davis, a member of the extended Brown family, said that at least Monday should remain peaceful in honor of Brown.
“Today is for peace. Peace and quiet,” Davis told mourners inside the church. “We don’t say goodbye,” he said of Brown. “We say good journey, until we meet again.”
AFP Photo/Richard Perry
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