Nearly 500 mourners celebrated Andrew Brown Jr.’s short life and heard demands for justice for those responsible for his death during the Elizabeth City man’s funeral service on Monday.
Brown’s funeral service at Fountain of Life Church on U.S. Highway 17 South took place under the glare of a national spotlight. Because Brown, a Black man, was shot and killed by Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies serving search warrants on April 21, his death has added to the continuing national debate over the policing of African Americans sparked by a police officer’s murder of George Floyd last May.
Media outlets from the around the world had reporters and TV crews outside the church and an untold number of people watched the 2½-hour funeral service via livestream.
Inside the church, the Rev. Al Sharpton told mourners that official arguments for not releasing law enforcement officers’ full body camera and dash cam footage in Brown’s killing amount to “a shell game.”
Sharpton asked how releasing the footage could prejudice a grand jury when the grand jury is supposed to see the footage themselves.
“I know a con game when I see it,” Sharpton said. “Release the whole tape and let the folk see what happened to Andrew Brown.”
Sharpton was referring to a North Carolina Superior Court judge’s refusal last week to immediately release body camera footage of deputies’ fatal shooting of Brown on April 21. Judge Jeff Foster ordered the footage from four deputy body cameras and one vehicle dash camera disclosed to Brown’s family within 10 days and released to them within 45 days. Foster ordered that the faces and badges of deputies be blurred so they can’t be identified.
Some 200 members of Brown’s family were seated in the central section of the sanctuary at Fountain of Life Church, many wearing shirts reading “Say his name ... Andrew Brown” or “Justice for Andrew Brown.”
The Rev. Anthony Spearman, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told Brown’s family that his organization and the Pasquotank NAACP will be standing with them.
“I want everybody to know that we’re going to put an end to this shell game that Rev. Al spoke about,” Spearman said.
Sharpton said police serve warrants all the time without killing anyone.
“You say, ‘well Andrew had a (criminal) record,’” Sharpton said. “Well Andrew didn’t shoot nobody. Don’t play the shell game. Tell me the policeman’s record.”
Sharpton’s reference was to the three Pasquotank sheriffs’ deputies who Sheriff Tommy Wooten said fired their weapons at Brown while attempting to serve drug-related arrest and search warrants at Brown’s home April 21. An independent autopsy commissioned by attorneys for Brown’s family found he was shot five times, four times in the arm and once in the back of the head.
Wooten released the names of all seven deputies involved in Brown’s shooting on Thursday. He said the three deputies who fired at Brown, and who remain on administrative leave, are Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Sheriff 2 Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn.
Sharpton said no one is asking for favors or anything special — only justice.
“If he did wrong, bring him to court,” Sharpton said, referring to the warrants officers were serving when Brown was killed. “But you don’t have the right to bring him to his funeral.”
Noting that a dozen officers testified against Derek Chauvin in his trial for killing George Floyd, Sharpton said “even the police are tired of making excuses and covering up.”
“We must deal with the inequality in the criminal justice system today,” Sharpton said. “The challenge of these times is how we are going to deal with policing in America.”
Sharpton said preachers who aren’t willing to step up and preach on the inequality in criminal justice need “to sit down and shut up.”
“The shell game is over,” Sharpton said.
Gwen Carr — the mother of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in New York City in 2014 — told members of Brown’s family that they will always have a friend in her.
“Where we live shouldn’t determine if we live,” Carr said.
Monica Wright, the sister of Daunte Wright, who was killed by police in Minnesota last month, also spoke at Brown’s funeral. She said she is outraged that yet another Black man has been shot and killed by police.
The Rev. William Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach, related the story of Abel in Genesis 4. He noted that after Abel was killed by his brother Cain, his blood cried out from the ground. Andrew Brown Jr.’s blood cries out from the ground, Barber said.
“That’s why there is going to be justice — because the blood will never stop speaking,” Barber said. “Until the tapes come out the blood will cry from the ground.”
Barber also offered Brown’s family words of comfort, telling them Brown was “a strong and courageous man” who fought for his family.
“He was a man,” Barber said. He noted that when Brown was killed he had neither drugs or weapons in his possession.
“They sent a whole tactical team,” Barber said. “He was one man.”
Barber said that while Brown’s body is dead, his spirit is rising up in the people who are working for justice in his name. He said those people including those calling out Democratic West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin over his opposition to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“No bullet can kill the kind of courage that Andrew had,” Barber said. “There is an army rising to break every chain. People who never knew Andrew will fight for justice now in his name.”
Noting Brown’s five minor children sitting in front of him in the church, Barber said “We have got to make sure that these babies don’t have to face this” same type of injustice.
Brown’s family members also spoke during the 2½-hour service.
Khalil Ferebee, one of Brown’s adult sons, urged his family and friends to keep their heads up. Jha’rod Ferebee, Brown’s other adult son, said he and his father were like best friends.
“His physical being ain’t here but he’s here with us,” Jha’rod Brown said. “We’re going to get justice behind this.”
Brown’s cousin Elton Ferebee described him as “the coolest cousin.” Sandra Wright, grandmother of some of Brown’s children, said “we’re going to stand strong for him.” She said she was proud of Brown, who had been working hard to get back custody of his children.
Bakari Sellers, a civil rights attorney and former South Carolina lawmaker, also spoke during the service. He talked about the sadness and frustration of being at another funeral for a Black man killed by police.
“Here we are again,” Sellers said. “We’re tired of the cycle of grief that comes along with being Black in this country. The systems of this nation have to be torn down and re-imagined so that they can include all of Andrew’s children, all of God’s children.”
Ben Crump, another attorney representing Brown’s family, told them that he and other attorneys are working to get justice for Andrew Brown.
“It is up to us to make the plea for transparency and demand that these videotapes be released,” Crump said.
The footage from the deputies’ body cameras will have to come out, because a lie cannot live forever, he said.
“We know that it was a reckless, unjustified shooting,” Crump said.
Brown’s casket arrived at Fountain of Life Church by horse-drawn carriage. The funeral procession, which included nearly 100 vehicles, began at Waterfront Park and proceeded slowly down Ehringhaus Street to Halstead Boulevard before turning onto Hughes Boulevard-U.S. 17 South.
After the service, the procession left Fountain of Life Church and traveled to the K.E. White Center for a reception for the family, said Darius Horton, whose Horton’s Funeral Home and Cremations handled Brown’s funeral arrangements. Horton said Brown will be laid to rest during a private service later.