By Edward McAllister and Nick Carey
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Mourners sang, clapped and danced on Monday at funeral services for Michael Brown, remembering the slain black teenager with words of goodwill and joy rather than the violence and outrage that followed his killing by a white police officer.
Brown’s body lay at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in a black and gold casket, topped with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap he was wearing when he was killed on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.
As hundreds of people filed into the modern red-brick church on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis, Brown’s coffin was surrounded by photos of him as a child, graduating from school and smiling in his Cardinals cap.
“There are no goodbyes for us, wherever you are you will always be in our hearts,” read a sign accompanying one of the photos.
Gospel music filled the sanctuary as hundreds of people stood inside the church, many dancing, singing and clapping.
Outside, gatherers sang the civil rights hymn “We Shall Overcome,” in a scene markedly different from the violent protests that rocked the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson after Brown was shot to death on Aug. 9.
APPEAL FOR CALM
Brown’s father made an appeal for calm on the eve of the services.
“All I want tomorrow is peace while we lay our son to rest,” Michael Brown, Sr. said at a Sunday rally against police violence that he led with civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton.
“Please, that’s all I ask,” he told the crowd of hundreds that gathered on Sunday, including the parents of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
Like the Martin shooting, Brown’s killing has focused attention on racial tension and relations in the United States. The Ferguson protests also evoked criticism of the local police force’s use of military gear and heavy-handed tactics.
Around the church on Monday, the police presence was heavy but relaxed. Authorities have braced for a possible flare-up, although clashes between protesters and police have waned significantly in recent days.
The National Guard, brought in at the request of the governor to help quell the Ferguson unrest, has begun a gradual withdrawal.
Among the hundreds of people waiting outside the church was Travis Jackson, a black, 25-year-old retail store employee who said he took the day off from work to pay his respects.
“I had to be here. After all the emotions and pain of the past two weeks, this is an important moment for this community,” he said.
“Today I am focused on peace for Michael Brown. Tomorrow I can think about justice,” he added.
In addition to Sharpton, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson was also on hand for the funeral. The White House said it was sending three presidential aides to attend the service.
A grand jury began hearing evidence on Wednesday, a process the county prosecutor said could take until mid-October.
(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; editing by Jonathan Oatis, G Crosse)