ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — Friends and family gathered Monday to lay to rest the body of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man who was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies last month, sparking controversy and protests in this northeast North Carolina town.
Brown’s body was paraded down Ehringhaus Street inside a horse-drawn carriage, then switched to a hearse at a Popeye’s along the route to Fountain of Life Church in Elizabeth City.
A red carpet was rolled out for Brown’s casket, which was brought into the funeral service flanked by the nation’s top civil rights leaders. The cart carrying the black casket bumped over pacing stones on the way inside, making a sound like a drum tapping.
The Revs. Al Sharpton and William Barber II led the way, Barber leaning heavily on a cane. Sharpton will deliver the eulogy at the invitation-only funeral that started at noon.
About 100 people sat inside the church sanctuary as the family filed in and the casket was placed in front of the stage.
Mourners are seeking solace for the loss of a member of the family and community and also for the anxiety created by the circumstances of Brown’s death. As the pastor read from the Book of John, a few murmured “Amen” and “Yes, Lord.”
A choir of at least a dozen people assembled for the service set the tone with a triumphant anthem, backed by a praise band that brought many in the congregation to their feet.
Outside the funeral, mourners wore memorial T-shirts with at least half a dozen designs: “Long Live Drew,” “Justice for Andrew Brown Jr.” and “I AM Andrew Brown Jr.”
A plane flew overhead pulling a banner: “Andrew Brown Jr., never forgotten.”
Linc Brooks drove back to his hometown, traveling from Rocky Mount, where he retired as a police officer.
“Andrew Brown represents everyone in the community,” Brooks said. “You don’t have to know him personally. We’re fighting the same fight.
“Even if the officers get a court date, it won’t be any relief. The cameras will go away. The people will leave. The family will be lonely again.”
This celebration of life follows a small open-casket viewing of Brown’s body at Horton’s Funeral Home in Hertford on Sunday and another larger public viewing at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.
Brown, 42, was shot and killed by officers of the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office on April 21 as they attempted to serve a warrant on drug charges. The incident happened less than 24 hours after Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.
An independent autopsy commissioned by the family showed Brown was shot five times, with a fatal bullet wound to the back of his head, attorneys said.
The case brought national attention to Elizabeth City as protesters have marched through the streets every night since the shooting. They’ve said this shooting is another example of excessive force by police against Black people and demanded more transparency and accountability from law enforcement. Three officers involved remain on leave until investigations are complete and four are now back on active duty.
Brown’s family members, attorneys, media organizations and protesters have called for authorities to release body camera footage that shows what happened the morning deputies killed Brown outside his home.
Last week, a state Superior Court judge denied official requests to make the videos public, though he allowed family members to view more of the footage.
The court will reconsider releasing the footage after an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and a decision on potential criminal charges.