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Sharpton calls for change at Michael Brown's funeral

Monica DaveyThe New York Times

ST. LOUIS - They came by the thousands to pay their respects. Among them were the parents and extended family - some 500 strong - of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed more than two weeks ago by a Ferguson police officer.

But the crowd of mourners also included the Rev. Jesse Jackson; film director Spike Lee; T.D. Jakes, the bishop of The Potter's House, an African-American megachurch; several members of Congress; representatives from the White House; and two children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

During a deeply religious service Monday at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, several speakers exhorted mourners to work for justice, not just for Brown but for others, long after the funeral was over.

"There is a cry being made from the ground, not just for Michael Brown, but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, for the Columbine massacre, for black-on-black crime," the Rev. Charles Ewing, Brown's uncle, said.

Speaking before the overflowing crowd, the Rev. Al Sharpton criticized the militarization of the police and their treatment of Brown, while calling on African-Americans to push for change instead of "sitting around having ghetto pity parties."

On Sunday, relatives of Brown had asked for quiet during the funeral. The fatal shooting had set off weeks of protests and a severe police reaction in Ferguson. Several speakers echoed pleas from Brown's family for people to refrain from protesting Monday.

"Please don't exacerbate the almost unbearable pain of this family," said Bishop Edwin Bass of the Church of God in Christ. "It is imperative that we resist the temptation to react by rioting."

Many mourners, most of whom were black, wore buttons showing Brown's picture, and large photos of Brown stood at the front of the church. Rousing hymns by the Missouri Jurisdictional Choir repeatedly brought the entire crowd to their feet.

Among the family members who spoke, Cal Brown, Brown's stepmother, said that just weeks before he was shot, Brown had described a dream in which he had seen bloody sheets hanging on a clothesline. "He pretty much prophesied his own death and he didn't even realize it," she said, calling him "an awesome man" who wanted to have a family and "be a good father."

In addition to numerous readings from the Bible, there were readings from King and references to significant court cases in black history. Referring to the original determination in the Constitution that blacks were counted as three-fifths of a man for the purposes of voting, Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who is representing Brown's family, said that the teenager "was not three-fifths of a citizen. He was an American citizen, and we will not accept three-fifths justice."

Sharpton, the final speaker at the service, criticized inequality and the reaction of the police to the protesters.

"This is about fairness, and America is going to have to come to terms with there's something wrong, that we have money to give military equipment to police forces but we don't have money for training and money for public education and money to train our children," Sharpton said.

"America, how do you think we look when the world can see you can't come up with a police report, but you can find a video?" he said, referring to the fact that the Ferguson police force has not yet released a report about the shooting, but has released a video that appears to show Brown shoplifting at a convenience store the day of his death. "How do you think we look when young people march nonviolently asking for the land of the free and home of the brave to hear their cry and you put snipers on the roof and pointed guns at them?"

But Sharpton was also unsparing in his call for mourners to act peacefully. Speaking of looting that broke out in Ferguson in the wake of Brown's death, he noted that the family had to call for calm. "Can you imagine their heart broken, their son taken, disregarded and marginalized and they have to stop mourning to get you to control your anger, like you're more angry than they are?" he said.

"Sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves won't solve the problems," he said. "We got to be straight up in our community, too. We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have to be outraged by our disrespect for each other."

In an overflow room where mourners watched the service on television across the street from the church, Sharpton's remarks riled up the crowd. Some men left the overflow room to the street and began loudly chanting "hands up, don't shoot." One woman wildly screamed back, "Be quiet.

Be quiet. Respect that family." The men stopped for a moment before resuming, until security officers appeared.

In recent days, the marches in Ferguson have grown calmer and smaller. At a rally Sunday, Michael Brown Sr. asked the community to come together Monday. "All I want is peace while my son is being laid to rest," he said. The family has discouraged any suggestion that the funeral might bring a renewed eruption of violence. The funeral also coincided with the return to school - delayed because of the unrest - of students in the Ferguson area.

Before the service Monday, one man sold T-shirts outside the church with the slogan "Hands up, don't shoot," while another handed out leaflets for a candidate for a city political position.

The funeral was a deeply personal moment of mourning for those closest to Brown, but also, some demonstrators here said, a time of reflection for those who never knew him personally but have come to view him as a symbol.

Brown, who had just graduated from high school, was shot to death Aug. 9 after a confrontation with an officer, Darren Wilson, along a curving street in Ferguson, a mostly black city where the police force is mostly white. The police described the confrontation as a physical altercation between the two men that left Wilson with a swollen face; others have deemed it a case of needless police aggression and racial profiling. State and federal investigations are underway.

Though Brown was little known beyond his sphere of friends and relatives before his death, his funeral drew a large crowd from this region and beyond. Brown's family members had said they wanted the general public to be included in the events, their representatives said, a reflection of the support that so many strangers have offered.

As the crowds left the main church hall after the service, many gathered at the front doors, waiting for the celebrities to exit. They pressed against steel barricades to get glimpses and photos of Lee and Sharpton.

Brandon Lewis, 19, a close friend of Brown who was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of him and Brown, said it was great to see all the people gathered outside the church to pay respects to his friend. "Love - that's really brotherly love," Lewis said. "It brings closure."