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Michael Brown’s funeral: Hope, tears and a call for social change

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ST. LOUIS (CNN) — The funeral of slain Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Michael Brown was a celebration of his life, a search for meaning in his death and a battle cry to change policing in America.

The Rev. Al Sharpton delivered one of two eulogies during the service, and he had sharp words for those who looted stores and rioted after the teenager was shot.

“You don’t understand that Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot. He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal with how we’re going to police in the United States.”

With a call to action, Sharpton criticized police who pointed rifles at peaceful protesters in Ferguson. “We have to leave here today and change this,” he said.

He urged his audience to respect the Brown family’s wish for silence Monday. And when protests resume, Sharpton said “they’ve asked for it to be peaceful. If you can’t control yourself, then don’t do it in Michael’s name. Do it in your own name.”

“Michael Brown’s blood is crying from the ground, crying for vengeance, crying for justice,” said the Rev. Charles Ewing, the teenager’s uncle, in a eulogy on behalf on the family.

He drew parallels between Brown’s life, death and Scripture. “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.”

Family members remembered Monday that the slain teen said, “One day, the world will know my name.”

Four members of his family recalled memories of “Mike Mike,” as they called him, during services at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis.

“Michael was a big guy, but he was a kind, gentle soul, and before he left this Earth, the day that he was killed, he was out spreading the word of Jesus Christ,” a family friend said.

They urged the crowd of thousands of mourners to “show up at the voting polls,” because “we have had enough to of seeing our brothers and sisters killed in the streets.”

“If we had more of this,” one family member said, referring to the audience and then motioning to Brown’s casket, “we could have less of this. It shouldn’t have took this to get us together like this.”

A message of hope to a full sanctuary

Bishop Edwin Bass of the Church of God in Christ told the Brown family that he, too, lost a child to violence on the streets of St. Louis. “While this tragic loss will always be with you, the step-by-step, one foot in front of the other march of time will ultimately bring you to a divine place where you will laugh again, you will find the joy of living again, as your thinking shifts from tragedy to the joyful reflection of good times.”

Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, wiped away tears as she stood at the coffin that holds her son’s body.

She wrote a letter to her son published in the funeral program that said in part, “I never want this to go unsaid, there are no words to express how much you mean to me. A son like you, I thought could never be. Because the day you were born, I just know, God sent me a blessing — and that was you.”

His father, Michael Brown Sr., wrote his own letter, saying, “I always told you I will never let nothing happen to you. And that’s what hurt sooooooo much, that I couldn’t protect you but we love you. I will never let you die in my heart, you will always live forever.”

The sanctuary, which holds 2,500 people, was filled to capacity, and an overflow auditorium was also full. It was estimated by reporters at the service that another 2,000 people were on church property for the funeral service in addition to those in the sanctuary.

Retired mail carrier Hilliard Phillips, who once delivered on the street where Brown was killed, was among the mourners. He said there’s power in numbers, and he hoped the outpouring of support for Brown and his family would spur society to take a look at itself.

“You can’t really overnight change the behavior of a person, but sometimes they can be coerced in a sweet way. … I would hope they could see people coming together in a solemn way to show their respect to someone,” he said.

Following the service, scores of motorcycles ridden by mourners accompanied the funeral procession that carried Brown’s body to St. Peter’s Cemetery in St. Louis.

Mourners wore T-shirts and buttons memorializing Michael Brown

Brown’s death on August 9 sparked days of sometimes violent protests in the St. Louis suburb and concern over race and police shootings across the country. In the past several days, things have calmed down, and the town is slowly coming back to life.

Among the guests at the service were Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Bernice King; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; the families of Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell; and celebrities Spike Lee, Diddy and Snoop Lion.

The White House sent three officials to the funeral. One of them was Broderick Johnson, who leads the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. He was joined by Marlon Marshall, a St. Louis native who attended high school with Brown’s mother, and Heather Foster. Marshall and Foster are part of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, however, did not attend.

“The governor has communicated to attorneys representing the family of Michael Brown that he will not be attending today’s funeral out of respect for the family, who deserve time to focus on remembering Michael and grieving their loss,” spokesman Scott Holste said before the service.

Brown’s father called Sunday for Monday to be a day of calm.

“Please, please take a day of silence so I can, so we can, lay our son to rest,” he told a rally in St. Louis. “Please. It’s all I ask.”

Race tensions

Two weeks after the shooting sparked violent protests, the mood turned more tranquil over the weekend, with smaller crowds and lots of music. Gone were police in riot gear and defiant protesters. The tear gas, rubber bullets and Molotov cocktails were nowhere to be seen, either.

In their place were clusters of officers, hanging around businesses, chatting with one another.

Race has been at the forefront of the tensions; Brown was African-American, and the officer who shot him is white.

Wilson’s supporters held a rally in St. Louis on Sunday, where organizers announced they had raised more than $400,000 for the officer.

St. Louis authorities have released details of the racial and gender makeup of the grand jury that started hearing testimony Wednesday. It is made up of six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man, said Paul Fox, the administrator for the St. Louis County Circuit Court.

St. Louis County is 70% white and 24% black, according to last year’s estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Eliott C. McLaughlin reported from St. Louis, and Michael Pearson and Susanna Capelouto reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Faith Karimi and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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