FERGUSON, Mo. -- The uncle of 18-year-old Michael Brown says his nephew was a "gentle giant" who didn't want to play football because he didn't want to hurt anyone.
Brown, who was shot to death Saturday afternoon in Ferguson by a police officer, stood 6-4 and weighed 300 pounds. He had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to starting college.
"I said, 'Mike, with your size, any college would sign you up to train you to play football. But he was a very timid young man. He wouldn't hurt anybody. He didn't want to hit anybody. He said he didn't want to play football," said Charles Ewing.
"You could hardly get him to talk. He was very shy."
Brown's death has sparked some of the most intense racial tension seen in years in this country, pitting police with riot gear and tear-gas bombs against angry crowds demanding justice. Nightly confrontations on the streets have been playing out on national television.
Ewing said he saw his nephew just a couple of weeks before the shooting, at his grandmother's residence in the Canfield Green Apartment complex, where the shooting occurred. "He was on his computer. We were talking about football, graduating from high school."
Brown towered over the other students in his classes. "He was shy and he was big. They called him Big Mike. He felt out of place because of his size."
Ewing said some have suggested his nephew was in a gang, but he denied that. With peer pressure being what it is, "It's amazing he had a mind to finish high school." He would have started classes at Vaderott College on Monday to fulfil his dream of becoming a heating and air conditioning technician.
He didn't make it.
Ewing, 58, pastor of the Jennings Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, joined other relatives in calling for calm in the wake of protests that at times have been punctuated by looting and violence. He said the family has called for a transparent investigation into the shooting death of their loved one. They want answers.
"We're praying for strength," he said in an interview.
Protests have been large since Brown was killed and the crowds have been huge. The demonstrators are young and old, black and white. Some are crying as they walk. Others say they are tired of police killing young black males. Stop the killing, they shout.
Since Sunday night, the part of Ferguson where the shooting took place has looked like a war zone. Police carry shields and military-style rifles that shoot rubber bullets. Tear-gas canisters have been set off by police, burning people's eyes and causing them to cough and have difficulty breathing as they run away.
Ewing said while the family makes funeral plans, it struggles with the question of how this happened.
Police have said Brown and the officer scuffled and the youth was going for the officer's gun; witnesses have said Brown had his hands in the air and was walking away.
Ewing said the shooting, ensuing riots and the military response of the police has caused grief and "put a great amount of stress on the family."
-- Belleville News-Democrat