Hundreds of people have lined up in sweltering heat to say goodbye to the 18-year-old US man shot dead by a police officer in an incident that sparked almost two weeks of street protests.
More than an hour before Michael Brown’s funeral was to begin in Missouri, a steady stream of people started filing into the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St Louis.
Brown was unarmed when he was shot on August 9 by officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case and a federal investigation is also under way.
Police have said a scuffle broke out after Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a pavement in Ferguson, a St Louis suburb.
Police said Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown’s arms in the air – an act of surrender. A post-mortem examination found he was shot at least six times.
President Barack Obama is sending three White House aides to the funeral. America’ first black president has tried to strike a balanced tone on the shooting, calling both for respect for police and reflection on the plight of young black men who feel targeted.
Among the mourners at the funeral was Will Acklin, who travelled from Arkansas state.
“It’s important in that as a child I was pushed by police, mistreated by police, cursed by police, and I was a good kid,” said the 63-year-old, who is black. “I was an honor student. When I heard this, I felt compelled to come here and show my respects.”
The church’s sanctuary, which seats about 2,500, filled quickly. Overflow rooms holding another 2,000 were also full.
With the church at capacity, many people could not get in and instead waited outside, crowded into shady areas on a hot day.
Poster-size photos of Brown were on each side of the closed casket, which had a St Louis Cardinals baseball cap on top.
Large projection screens showed a photo of him clutching his high school diploma while wearing his cap and gown. He had been scheduled to start training at a technical school two days after his death. He wanted to become a heating and air-conditioning technician.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr, has asked protesters to take a break and observe a “day of silence” so the family can grieve.
His request appeared to be honoured. At the Ferguson Police Department, where a small but steady group of protesters have stood for two weeks, a handmade sign announced a “break for funeral”.
Family members denounced a video released by police, who say it shows Brown snatching some cigars in a convenience store just before he was killed.
Family and friends say Brown was an aspiring rapper with a gentle, joking manner who dubbed himself “Big Mike”.
He was good at fixing things, liked computer games, the rapper Lil Wayne, Drake, the movie Grown Ups 2, and the TV show Family Guy.
Brown’s great uncle, pastor Charles Ewing, was to deliver the eulogy. The Reverend Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist, was also expected to speak.