Chicago protest over street gangs' rowdy funerals
Residents of neighbourhoods in Chicago's Southwest Side protest, demanding that mourners 'respect the living and the dead'
As the funeral procession headed through Chicago's far Southwest Side, mourners weaved in and out of traffic, leaned out of car windows as they sang to music blaring from their car stereos and flashed gang signs, a video on YouTube showed.
These rowdy processions for slain street gang members have upset many residents in the mostly white neighbourhoods of Mount Greenwood and Beverly who say they create a public safety problem. There have even been reports of shots fired, police say.
Neighbours want a number of cemeteries in the area as well as funeral homes to take more responsibility for the mayhem, but the businesses say there is only so much they can do to try to control the misbehaviour.
Paul Stewart, spokesman for the Mount Hope Cemetery, acknowledged it is a popular spot for gang funerals largely because of its "reasonable" rates - as low as US$1,200 for a burial. While aware of residents' concerns, Stewart said, the cemetery's mission has to be to provide services to a grieving family even if the deceased is a gang member.
"If a mother has a child in a gang, the services we're providing are for the mother of the child," Stewart said. "The mother is working with the funeral director and they just want to bury their child."
About 200 residents took to the streets on a recent Saturday to show their anger over the issue, marching from Kennedy Park about five blocks to Mount Hope in unincorporated Cook county. Many hoisted signs calling to "respect the living and the dead".
Barbara Mowatt and other residents were adamant that race was not an issue in the protests. The protest drew a number of blacks as well.
"If you've never seen it, you'd never believe it," said Mowatt, a look of disbelief flashing across her face. "It's not a black-white thing at all. Have respect for the neighbourhood."
Chicago police and Cook county sheriff's deputies appear to have heard the residents' complaints. Officers were out in force at two gang funerals last month. At both, officers were stationed at points along the procession, while a Chicago police helicopter hovered over a long motorcade of dozens of vehicles, on the lookout for signs of trouble.
At a funeral a couple of weekends ago for Christopher McGowan, a reputed Black Disciple gang member who was fatally shot when police say he pointed a gun at an on-duty officer, a police helicopter followed the 10-kilometre procession from a church in Harvey to Mount Hope Cemetery. But police reported no trouble.
Earlier last month, gunshots were reportedly fired from a white car as the funeral procession for Lil Jojo, an aspiring rapper with alleged gang ties whose real name was Joseph Coleman, moved from the South Side to Mount Hope. Police made two arrests after finding a .45-calibre handgun in a white Mitsubishi vehicle as the procession neared the cemetery.
Police have made several other arrests during other alleged gang funeral processions in the area.
Peggy Kerrigan, who lives about three blocks from Mount Hope, said she worries that the gang processions could draw the attention of rivals and increase hazards for motorists and children outside playing.
"You get that worry there is going to be a gang war out there," she said during the recent weekend protest.
Isaiah Jones, who owns the Southwest Side funeral home where services were held for Lil Jojo, said he always lets police know in advance of gang-related funerals.
The several hundred mourners at Lil Jojo's funeral were the most unruly he had ever seen, said Jones, who has held many services for slain gang members in his 47 years in the funeral business. Police cleared out the services after the crowd nearly knocked over the casket of the 18-year-old shooting victim.
"You're in the business to make money," Jones said. "But if I had known something like this was going to happen, I would've turned it down."