Residents and officials in one southwest side ward say there needs to be more accountability -- be it from City Hall or from cemetery operators themselves -- to control the antics of those involved in funeral processions that they say dishonor both the living and the dead.
The Beverly and Morgan Park neighborhoods are filled with quintessential Chicago-style homes and well-manicured yards. But in the last several years more and more often residents say their neighborhoods have been put at risk.
"My residents are sick and tired of this. And I’m sick and tired of it," said Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th).
A video posted on YouTube of a funeral procession in March shows cars weaving in and out of traffic, young people hanging of our cars, and gangs signs flashed. The procession, according to residents and the alderman, was headed to Mt. Hope Cemetery.
"They are so irate, so blatant, so aggressive and intimidating," said longtime resident Kathleen Walsh Mulchay.
The instances are aplenty, according to O'Shea:
- On May 18 at 115th and Washtenaw, cars left a funeral traveling, "70 to 80 miles an hour, zigzagging through the streets." A loaded gun was tossed out the window, he said.
- On Aug 4 at 115th and Western: "Occupants in the procession got out and began scuffling with the police," the alderman explained.
- And on Sept. 14th at 115th and Fairfield: "We had a surge of vehicles leaving the funeral procession, racing at 70 miles an hour down this residential street," said O'Shea. Police pursued and multiple arrests were made and a gun was found in the car. The next day about 200 fed up residents marched in protest.
In a ward that is 65 percent white and 26 percent black, it's not race that's the issue, he said.
"These are residents that are black, white, Hispanic, all that are fed up with this type of activity going on in our community," said O’Shea.
And what's happening in the 19th Ward is not unique, according to a pastor who has presided over similar funerals.
"Oh no, not just this cemetery," said Rev. Oscar Crear.
The pastor said he's participated in similar funerals and said the antics don't just occur at gang funerals. He said acting out is associated with an emotion that's deep on chronic.
"Pain. That’s pain," said Crear of the young people in question. "So I’ll scream. I’ll get a gun. I’ll get high," he said. "Whatever I can do to get this pain out of me is what I’ll do."
There are other concerns by residents, including high volumes of traffic. Saturdays can bring as many as 25 funerals all using a single entrance.
But it is the recklessness that rankles residents most.
Resident Ton Bansley wants the issue taken up by City Hall. And he wants some added accountability by funeral homes.
"If you are caught driving reckless in a funeral procession, your car will automatically be impounded and the driver will be arrested and charged with reckless conduct," he proposed. "If, after several times, there is cause associated with the same funeral home, we think they should be held accountable somehow."
A spokesman for Mt. Hope said the gang funerals concern them, as well.
"We have been victims of the same issues," the spokesman said.
The alderman, residents and the cemetery owners have all met but so far have only an unsigned memo of understanding.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s summer of violence rolls into fall, and more funerals are certain. Just this week Chicago police reported recovering a gun during a gang funeral headed to a cemetery in Evergreen Park.
Rev. Crear on Friday will hold a roundtable discussion with mental health professionals and others to address the issue of violence and grief at the New Tiberia Baptist Church where he is the pastor.
"It’s just not normal to see that much death and violence in any neighborhood," he said. "The human psyche is just not designed to handle that much trauma."