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In Michael Brown's Memory, Pleas For Justice And Calm

Some attendees at Michael Brown's funeral Monday in St. Louis wore ties and buttons depicting the 18-year-old, who was killed two weeks ago in Ferguson, Mo.
Robert Cohen
Some attendees at Michael Brown's funeral Monday in St. Louis wore ties and buttons depicting the 18-year-old, who was killed two weeks ago in Ferguson, Mo.

It was 80 degrees before 8 a.m. in St. Louis, but hundreds of people still lined up early to attend Michael Brown's funeral service Monday.

The 18-year-old was laid to rest at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, more than two weeks after his shooting death by a white police officer in the suburb of Ferguson, Mo. Brown's death touched off days of protests and violence in Ferguson.

His face was everywhere at the service, on T-shirts and silk-screened on the black ties worn by his male relatives.

Friends and family filed into the church stone-faced, while members of the Nation of Islam linked arms and held back the crush of press and well-wishers.

Rebecca Smith was one of the thousands who attended, despite having no personal connection to Brown. She says she came because of what his death represents.

"This is 2014, and we're still telling our kids, our young black men — don't ride four deep in the car because the police going to stop you," Smith said. "I am 50-something years old, and I've been hearing this. It's time to stop."

Inside the church, the 2,000-plus mourners included Martin Luther King III, members of Congress and emissaries from the Obama administration.

The speakers, family and clergy alike, referred to Brown as a kind of martyr, whose spilled blood was a sacrifice for the greater good. One of Brown's relatives, Eric Davis, even hinted that the death was preordained.

"Michael also stated to the family that one day the world would know his name," Davis said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy at the service, describing how, when he first heard about Brown's death, he didn't even know where Ferguson, Mo., was.

Now, the nation knows — and Sharpton called on the community to make use of that.

"Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot," 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."

As he often does, Sharpton called on the community here to channel the outrage over Brown's death into constructive political action.

"Nobody's going to help us if we don't help ourselves. Sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves won't solve the problems," Sharpton said. "Sitting around having ghetto pity parties, rather than organizing and strategizing."

African-Americans are not anti-police, Sharpton said, but they are sick and tired of what he referred to as the "bad apples" on the force.

The clear implication is that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, is one such bad apple. Protesters around Ferguson have been demanding Wilson's immediate arrest. That demand rankles police, who say Wilson deserves an investigation and due process.

As Sharpton wrapped up, some of the crowd watching in an overflow viewing space started chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot," the slogan made familiar by protests on the streets of Ferguson.

The chanters, young black men, quickly attracted the wrath of an African-American woman in the crowd.

"Be quiet! I love you, son, but right now you got to respect that family," she said. "They said no protest. That means no protest. Don't come out there with this — not now."

One of the men, Don DeVargas, shrugged off the criticism. He thinks there hasn't been enough noise yet — not enough to attract President Obama to the funeral, for example.

"Where is he? Mr. President, Vice President — where is he? [Where's] the Congress?" he asked.

And if authorities don't ultimately charge Ferguson police officer Wilson in the shooting, DeVargas said, "we're out in these streets, right here, right now."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.