Hundreds gathered at a downtown park Sunday for an annual “Peace Fest” attended by relatives of three young black men killed in controversial shootings: Trayvon Martin of Florida, Oscar Grant of California and Michael Brown, 18, shot two weeks ago in nearby Ferguson by a white police officer.
Brown’s parents thanked the crowd for their support, and asked that they remain peaceful Monday for their son’s funeral.
“Tomorrow, all I want is peace while my son is being laid to rest. Please, please take a day of silence so we can lay our son to rest. Please, that’s all I ask,” Michael Brown Sr. said as he stood on stage, flanked by the Rev. Al Sharpton and family attorney Benjamin Crump.
“We love you, Mike,” the crowd responded.
“I really hope people respect Mr. Brown’s wishes,” Crump said afterward. “We all need to be peaceful.”
Brown’s funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, which seats more than 3,000 people. Speakers will include Sharpton, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Brown’s relatives, and the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Michael Jones.
The White House is sending three officials, including the deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, Marlon Marshall, a St. Louis native who attended high school with Brown’s mother.
Trayvon Martin’s parents also took the stage Sunday. Tracy Martin, a native of the St. Louis area, told the crowd he was glad to be home.
Like Brown, Martin’s son Trayvon, 17, was unarmed when he was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., two years ago by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Trayvon’s death touched off protests in a number of cities. Zimmerman, who said he fired in self-defense, was acquitted by a jury last summer.
Trayvon’s mother said more must done to combat racial profiling.
“Because Michael Brown had a right to live,” Sybrina Fulton said. “He had a right to see another birthday.”
Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson, 56, came from Oakland to attend the festival. He wore a “California to Ferguson” shirt emblazoned with the faces of Brown, Grant and Martin.
Grant, 22, was unarmed when he was shot by a white transit officer at an Oakland train station five years ago — an incident immortalized in the 2013 film “Fruitvale Station.” A jury convicted the officer of involuntary manslaughter, and he was sentenced to two years in jail minus time served. He has since been paroled.
“I’m here to help the family find peace, because we lived through this. And we had support from others in the community and from all around the country,” Johnson said as he mingled with the crowd.
The atmosphere was carnival-like, with booths hawking Brown and Martin T-shirts. Barbecue and kettle corn perfumed the air. The event, sponsored by the local nonprofit Better Family Life, began almost 30 years ago with a message of peace and unity among St. Louis’ black community, said its founder Malik Ahmed.
“We need to have peace between each other as blacks and peace between blacks and the police,” Ahmed said. “It’s essential.”
Loan officer Carl Little, who is black, brought his 4-year-old son.
“This boy could be him,” Little, 25, said of young Tyler, who slurped on cherry shaved ice. “It hurts me to see these parents here, because I could be them.”
The festival also came a day after thousands marched peacefully in Staten Island, N.Y., to protest the death of another black man, Eric Garner, 43, at the hands of police.
Brown was killed Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson, 28, who has reportedly told police that Brown was charging at him. However, some witnesses have said Brown was shot as he tried to surrender.
A grand jury is hearing evidence on the shooting, which is also being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. On Sunday, Crump reiterated his call for the Justice Department to assume control of the investigation, rather than pursuing a parallel inquiry.
Some at the festival said they did not expect tempers to flare until the grand jury released its findings.
Factory worker Vida Stewart, 52, said she hoped to see Wilson indicted.
“Who knows what happens in Ferguson if that doesn’t happen?” she said. “It could get real bad.”
Brown’s death drew national attention as protests turned violent. For days, police hurled smoke and tear gas canisters at crowds on West Florissant Avenue, accusing them of shooting at officers, as well as lobbing bottles and tossing Molotov cocktails. Scores of protesters and onlookers were arrested.
Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri State Highway Patrol to take over from local police, then activated the National Guard. Wednesday’s demonstrations were peaceful, and on Thursday, Nixon announced he was sending the National Guard home.
Some in Sunday’s crowd came looking for hope — including Catherine Wellborn, 28, of nearby St. Charles. The chiropractic assistant, who is white, planned to attend Brown’s funeral too.
“This is a really troubling time for this city and state,” Wellborn said. “There has to be some bit of hope for a better St. Louis and country that might come from Michael Brown’s death.”