Thursday, March 23, 2017

Does our Legislature need to regulate our behavior at funerals? Maybe!

About the screwiest incident I ever encountered as a reporter-type person involving a funeral was a moment a few years ago at a cemetery in suburban Calumet City where an interment turned into a brawl that some people tried to claim was gang-related.
HARRIS: Crafting bill on proper funeral conduct

What really happened was that the deceased person was involved, in life, with multiple women.

FOR HIS FUNERAL, several of them showed up – thinking they would be playing the role of the “grieving widow” (he wasn’t married). When the women discovered each other’s presence, things became heated.

People attending the funeral began taking sides with the individual women, and yes, a few of those individuals had gang ties.

Anyway, a brawl broke out at gravesite, which caused someone to call the police. The sounds of sirens in the distance wound up being sufficient to break this incident up.

When police arrived, there was hardly anybody left. Police wound up arresting nobody because anybody who would have done anything worth a criminal charge was gone. Which is why my editor at the newspaper I wrote for back then ultimately decided to ignore this incident, and this here is the first time I have written anything about it.

IT’S ALMOST FUNNY. That is, if anything about a funeral service can be somber. The deceased who, if he hadn’t already been dead, likely would have faced a serious tongue-lashing (and maybe a few physical blows) from the multiple ladies he was loving during life!

The scary part is that it seems such behavior is becoming more commonplace in certain quarters – to the point where state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, now feels compelled to put together a bill that could create tougher criminal penalties for such behavior.

He is working with funeral home directors to create laws that would have harsh penalties for using a firearm or other weapon while attending a funeral.

In theory, it’s the same as saying crimes near schools are more severe, or that using a weapon in general in a menacing manner that is worthy of a harsher punishment.

MUCH OF THE problem, however, is that these incidents often are occurring in neighborhoods where street gangs have accumulated significant influence – often through intimidation.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that funeral directors in certain South Side neighborhoods often wind up turning over the guest books they put together for mourners over to the police – who use them to try to figure out if gang members are attending the funerals of rival gang members for the explicit purpose of causing a violent ruckus.

For the record, activists at a press conference this week say they know of at least 17 funerals that were disrupted by gang-related violence. In some cases, it’s the people working in the funeral homes who wind up getting caught in the crossfire.

Yes, it’s an ugly situation. Although it’s also one that I’m not sure can be addressed with tougher penalties – largely because I wonder if anyone who thinks he’s carrying out an act of vengeance at a funeral is capable of thinking straight.

THEY MAY THINK they’re above the law. Or maybe they think they’re the ones who will get away with it. Actually, it will be when communities rise up to let gang members know how uninfluential they truly are that anything happens to eliminate occurrences as stupid as these.

I’m also wondering if the “gun nut” crowd will have the nerve to claim that such restrictions impose on their right to bear arms. As though in their minds the solution to this problem is to let everybody else carry a pistol so they can fire back.

All I know is that times have changed from an incident I covered at a cemetery on the Northwest Side back when I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. Back then, several men of Serbian ethnic origins conducted an informal “21 gun salute” at the gravesite of a friend – firing off pistols into the air.

I still remember talking to the daughter of one of the men arrested who couldn’t comprehend why there was an issue. Doesn’t everybody do this? Perhaps she was just three decades or so ahead of her time in her way of thinking.


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