“Tomorrow all I want is peace,” Michael Brown Sr. told hundreds of people in St. Louis’s largest city park during brief remarks at a festival that promotes peace over violence. “That’s all I ask.”
The more than two weeks since Michael Brown’s death have been marked by nightly protests, some violent and chaotic, although tensions have eased in recent days.
Brown Sr. told the crowd that he and his son’s mother appreciate the love and support they’ve received from the community. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who will speak at the funeral, echoed his request for peace.
“We don’t want anything tomorrow to happen that might defile the name of Michael Brown,” Sharpton said. “This is not about our rage tomorrow. It’s about the legacy and memory of his son.”
Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, appeared on stage with Sharpton, who told the crowd that McSpadden and her family saw Brown’s body for the first time today since the day of the shooting.
After McSpadden took the microphone, she broke down and covered her face with her left hand. The crowd began to chant, “We love you. We love you. We love you.” McSpadden composed herself for a moment and softly said, “Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you.”
Peace Fest 2014 was already in the works before Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown on Aug. 9 in a St. Louis suburb, but it took on new resonance in the aftermath.
The parents of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin also spoke, urging the crowd to channel its anger into action by pushing to strengthen families and better educate youth and expressing support for the Brown family and the people of the St. Louis area.
“We’re going to stand tall with you all,” Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, said.
Trayvon Martin, 17, was also unarmed when he was shot and killed in 2012. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who said he shot Martin in self-defense, was acquitted.
The nightly protests in Ferguson have been mostly peaceful in recent days, a contrast to images of police in riot gear firing tear gas canisters at angry protesters in the days after the Brown shooting. Tensions briefly flared then subsided late Saturday night and early Sunday.
Niesha Thomas, who attended Peace Fest, said she hopes the event marks “a new start” in which people put “irrelevant, unproductive” disputes behind them.
“This should be a pivotal point where we move forward,” Thomas said.
But that might not be so easy. A grand jury has started considering evidence in the case and some local residents and officials have said they’re concerned that a failure to return an indictment against Wilson could stoke new anger in the community.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon reiterated his support Sunday for sticking with St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Brown’s parents and others in the community have expressed concerns that the office would not be impartial because of McCulloch’s ties to law enforcement.
“He was elected overwhelmingly by the people a number of times. He’s been through a lot,” Nixon said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Certainly, with this level of attention, I think everyone will work hard to do their best work.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Nixon met privately later in the day with members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, some of whom said they repeated calls for an indictment of Wilson and the removal of McCulloch from the case. Nixon would not provide specifics about what was discussed.
The federal government also has launched its own investigation into the shooting.