Family And Civil Rights Leaders Mourn Andrew Brown Jr. At Funeral

May 3, 2021
Originally published on May 3, 2021 7:57 pm

Updated May 3, 2021 at 12:35 PM ET

Family, friends and national civil rights advocates gathered Monday for the funeral of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, N.C., as the circumstances of his shooting death last month by sheriff's deputies remained unclear.

The Rev. Al Sharpton gave his second eulogy in two weeks for a Black man killed by law enforcement, pressing officials to release body camera footage and painting the ongoing outcry over policing as the latest chapter of the civil rights movement in America. Sharpton also eulogized Daunte Wright at his April 22 funeral.

"This must stop. Enough is enough," Sharpton said. "How many funerals do we have to have until we tell the Congress and the Senate that you've got to do something in these times?"

Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was shot and killed in his car by Pasquotank County sheriff's deputies as they arrived to carry out search and arrest warrants related to drug-related charges.

His family described his death as an "execution" after viewing a 20-second excerpt from one officer's body camera, the only footage authorities have so far shown to his relatives. No footage has yet been released to the public.

An independent autopsy that the family commissioned showed Brown was struck by five bullets, including a fatal shot to the back of his head.

Authorities said Brown was trying to drive away and struck deputies with his car, prompting them to shoot. Relatives who viewed the body camera clip dispute that account, saying the footage showed that officers "[ran] up to his vehicle shooting." Officials said the entire encounter lasted just 30 seconds.

"How is it legal to shoot a man in the back and talk about, 'It was self-defense'? How do you try and justify shooting a man that was not a threat to you because he was running away from you?" Sharpton asked.

Brown's death has drawn attention nationwide, in part because of the timing of the shooting less than 24 hours after a jury in Minneapolis returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer convicted of murder in George Floyd's death.

"We could barely celebrate," Benjamin Crump said in remarks at the service. The prominent civil rights lawyer represents the families of both Floyd and Brown. "We thought that George Floyd represented that we were going to stop this unnecessary and unjustifiable killings of Black men," he said.

Sharpton and Crump called for the public release of all video footage of the shooting. At least seven deputies were involved, three of whom fired their weapons, according to Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II.

A North Carolina Superior Court judge last week ordered that the body camera footage be withheld from the public for 30 to 45 days until the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation finishes its initial investigation of the shooting. The judge also ordered officials to show family members the complete footage within 10 days, once deputies' faces and identification tags have been obscured.

The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.

"Based on the autopsy and based on where the bullets went into a neighbor's house, we know that this was a reckless, unjustifiable shooting. So the video is going to have to come out," Crump said.

Pallbearers carry Brown's casket to a horse-drawn carriage before his funeral service Monday at the Fountain of Life Church in Elizabeth City, N.C.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Sharpton was joined in speaking by members of Brown's family, including his two oldest sons, Khalil and Jha'rod Ferebee, who wore matching white suits and masks bearing their father's name and the word "justice."

"I wish he was here with us, but as much as I'm gonna wish and wish and wish all day, it's not going to happen," said Khalil Ferebee, speaking as he looked out at the mourners seated around the silver casket piled with red roses.

The funeral was also attended by relatives of Floyd, Wright and Eric Garner, along with prominent civil rights figures, including William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign and the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of the North Carolina NAACP.

"God used Andrew, just like he used George Floyd, for to spread his word, for to fight for his people," family member Sandra White said.

Monday's funeral followed a public viewing and memorial march Sunday in Elizabeth City, the small majority-Black coastal town where residents, many of whom knew Brown, said they have been surprised and saddened by his death. Protests have taken place daily since Brown was killed on April 21.

"[He was] nonviolent, never tote a gun. That's why the community was so behind him, because they know him. He's a nonviolent person," said Daniel Bowser, a longtime friend of Brown's. "That was a nonviolent warrant that ended in death."

Sharpton and other advocates have renewed their calls for federal police reform legislation. A Democratic-sponsored bill called the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act has passed the House but is currently stalled in the Senate.

"Elizabeth City is not a quote 'activist' town. They've been marching every day. I think it will put pressure on senators that something has to be done," said Sharpton in an interview after the funeral on NPR's All Things Considered.

"People do not want to live in a society where every two or three days, or every week, they're hearing about an unarmed Black person being killed by police," he said.

NPR's Sarah McCammon contributed reporting from Elizabeth City, N.C.

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