Grieving family members were joined by thousands of mourners at the funeral of Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth whose killing by a white police officer in the town of Ferguson triggered weeks of unrest.
US civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, called for a “fair and impartial investigation” into August 9, when Brown was shot and killed on a leafy residential street, which sparked days of protests among mostly-black residents who railed against harassment by a mostly-white police force.
“We are not anti-police, we respect police,” Sharpton told an emotionally-charged congregation that was frequently brought to its feet in applause. “But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community who are wrong need to be dealt with.”
Brown’s body lay at the modern red-brick Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in an elaborate coffin, topped with the red baseball cap of his local team, the St. Louis Cardinals, which he wore when he was shot six times in his home suburb of Ferguson.
Brown “stated to the family that one day the world would know his name. He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy,” Brown’s cousin, Eric Davis, told mourners. “But we are here today remembering the name of Michael Brown.”
A booklet to accompany the service featured images of Brown and messages from his parents. Michael Brown Sr. wrote that it “hurt soooooo much that I couldn’t protect you” while his mother, Lesley McSpadden, described Brown as the “purpose of my life.”
Brown Sr. had urged supporters not to protest on Monday out of respect for his child. Reverend Sharpton also discouraged violent demonstrations, saying anyone involved in such activity would do so in their own name, not that of Michael Brown.
“It was inspirational to see our community come together and show that all we want is justice for Mike Brown,” funeral attendee Lavette Ivory, 41, told Al Jazeera. “The message is that we should stop the violence come together as one community and achieve justice for all.”
Crowds waved flags outside on Dr Martin Luther King Drive – a name that has been evoked frequently during a spate of violence that has raised fresh questions about US race relations almost six years after Americans elected their first black president.
“Michael Brown’s murder was just the match, now we need to keep the momentum going and do everything we can to make sure that we defeat the injustice that has corrupted our justice system,” Zakiyyah Mahasin, 57, a retired railroad worker, told Al Jazeera.
Ferguson, a mostly-black suburb of St Louis of some 21,000 residents, has been riven by often-violent protests since Brown’s death.
A grand jury of three blacks and nine whites is hearing evidence about Brown’s shooting and is expected to decide whether to charge lawman Darren Wilson by mid-October. The inquiry hinges on whether Wilson, 28, fired in self-defence.
Missouri National Guard troops have begun withdrawing from Ferguson as protests have calmed in recent nights. Police have been criticised for using military tactics, toting assault rifles and using tear gas, rubber bullets and other heavy-handed measures.
Keith Sypes-El, 49, a supporter of Brown’s family, said he has spent the past fortnight encouraging Ferguson residents to register to vote in a district that has a majority-black population that is poorly-represented in elected officials.
“We need to change the political system in Ferguson – people here don’t understand about their right to vote,” he told Al Jazeera. “We need to get people in office who look after the interests of the community. If we don’t turn out to vote, we don’t have a right to gripe.” Al Jazeera