FERGUSON, Mo. – Michael Brown Sr. stood alone in the center of the narrow street where the blood of his namesake son still stained the gray pavement, two days after the 18-year-old was shot dead by a police officer. He straightened a waist-high wooden cross and re-lit the candles erected as part of a makeshift memorial.
“Big Mike,” as some of his friends called Michael Brown Jr., wasn’t the type to fight, family and neighbors said, though he lived in a restless neighborhood where police were on frequent patrol. His parents and neighbors described him as a good-hearted kid with an easy smile who certainly wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting that spread though his north St. Louis suburb following his death.
“He was funny, silly, he would make you laugh,” his father said, and when there was “any problem going on, any situation, there wasn’t nothing that he couldn’t solve. He could bring people back together.”
Brown, who was unarmed, was shot Saturday by a Ferguson police officer while walking with a friend down the center of the street. Police have said a scuffle broke out after the officer asked the boys to move to the side. Witnesses say Brown’s arms were in the air – in a sign of surrender – as a white policeman repeatedly shot the black youth.
After a vigil Sunday night, an angry crowd looted stores, and a night later police in Ferguson fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters. The U.S. Justice Department has announced that its civil rights division is investigating, and Brown’s family retained the same lawyer who represented relatives of Trayvon Martin – the Florida teen killed in a racially charged 2012 shooting. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton joined the family Tuesday to urge protesters to refrain from violence.
Brown was among a small group of students who had graduated Aug. 1 from Normandy High School, needing the summer to finish their required credits. He was to have started college his week for a career in heating and air conditioning engineering.
“We can’t even celebrate; we’ve got to plan a funeral,” said his tearful mother, Lesley McSpadden.
Brown had been staying at his grandmother’s apartment when the shooting occurred, and family and neighbors said he had long shied away from confrontation.
Because he was big, he gave football a try his sophomore year of high school. But he quit before the first game, said cousin Eric Davis.
“Him being a gentle spirit, he was like,’I don’t like to hit people,”’ Davis said Tuesday. “‘He would be like, I might hurt him. I don’t want to hurt him.”’
A couple of weeks before his death, Brown had confessed Jesus as his savior, said a great-uncle, pastor Charles Ewing. Shortly thereafter, Brown had a dream in which he saw a body laying covered by a sheet, Ewing said.
“He didn’t know whose body it was,” Ewing said, his voice cracking. “He said, ‘One day, the whole world is going to know my name’ ... not knowing this is what was going to happen.”
Neighbor Sharon Johnson, 58, said Brown frequently stopped to chat with her, including about his faith.
“He had a more mature mind than a little boy’s mind,” she said.
On Monday, Johnson was standing at the side of the street where Brown was shot as a woman who had driven in from a nearby community preached loudly to anyone willing to listen about the importance of peaceful protests and parental discipline for teenagers.
A passing car stopped, letting out a man wearing a newly made black T-shirt bearing Brown’s baby picture and the words “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.”
“I’m his father,” he said somberly, eliciting hugs.
The older Brown picked up a piece of cardboard that had been lying on the ground. “End police brutality,” it read. He placed it on a pile of toy animals stacked by a streetlight pole, then set about straightening up his son’s mid-street memorial.
He had just returned to the grass when a gunshot rang out. Then another. And another. It was time to go.
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