1000s of mourners gather for slain Ferguson teen

2014-08-25 18:19
A St Louis Cardinals baseball cap rests on top of Michael Brown's coffin before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis.

A St Louis Cardinals baseball cap rests on top of Michael Brown's coffin before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis.

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St Louis - Thousands of mourners filled a Baptist church here Monday for the funeral of a black teen whose killing by a white policeman ignited violent protests and debate on race and law enforcement in America.

Civil rights leaders and celebrities joined family and friends to pay final respects to Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot dead in a fatal encounter with white police in Ferguson, Missouri, a St Louis suburb, on 9 August.

The youth's grieving family appealed for calm as they bury their son, after two weeks of protests that have riveted the nation and reopened old wounds of racial discrimination and distrust.

"Can you please, please take a day of silence, so we can lay our son to rest," his father, Michael Brown Sr, said on Sunday.

Large lines formed outside the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, as hundreds of people began filling the pews of the 5 000-seat church.

Inside, mourners stopped before Brown's bronze casket, which was flanked by large portraits of him as a young man and smaller ones showing him as a baby. A Gospel choir sang hymns.

Civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson plus Missouri Governor Jay Nixon were among those in attendance.

After the funeral service, Brown is to be buried in a private ceremony in St Peter's cemetery.

The protests in Ferguson had subsided by Monday, but the debate over his death and what it meant continued to rage.

"We have to have a conversation, people don't want to have a conversation about race, and we need this conversation," said Jane Brandon Brown, ambassador for the Kingdom of God international ministries.

"We have to talk about the racial issues, we have to talk about the racial tensions, and then we have to talk about how we can eradicate it," she said.

Just days shy of starting college, Brown was walking down the street after leaving a convenience store where police say he stole a box of cigars, when he was shot by white policeman Darren Wilson at least six times.

Accounts of the shooting differ widely, with police alleging Brown was trying to grab Wilson's gun, but witnesses, including Brown's friend who was walking with him, said he was shot as he held his hands in the air in a clear sign of surrender.

"Hands up, don't shoot" has become the refrain of demonstrators who for the past two weeks have gathered in Ferguson to demand an open and transparent investigation and justice.

At night, protests have erupted into vandalism, clashes with police and 60 arrests, but the intensity appeared to have waned by Monday's funeral.

On Sunday, Brown's parents were joined at a demonstration by the father of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teen shot to death, by a neighbourhood watchman in 2012 in Florida.

Sharpton has drawn parallels to the death in Staten Island, New York of Eric Garner, who died on 17 July after police put him in a choke-hold while trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling illegal cigarettes.

"We must turn this moment into a movement... towards solutions: how we deal with the whole aggressive policing of what is considered low-level crimes," Sharpton told NBC on Sunday.

Justice will be served

A grand jury in St Louis is charged with deciding whether to bring charges against the police officer, 28, who for now is on paid leave.

Nixon, the Missouri governor, told CNN on Sunday he was "confident that, with the dual investigations" - by local police and federal authorities - "ultimately justice will be served here".

During the protests police used battle-grade hardware, including assault rifles, stun grenades and body armour, sparking criticism of an overly aggressive approach.

US President Barack Obama sent Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement officer and an African American, to Ferguson, where he walked the streets and tried to reassure the community.

The US president later ordered a review of federal programmes that sell military hardware to local police, to determine whether they are appropriate and whether there is enough training and oversight for the gear's use.

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