Clarence Glover has a surveillance camera in the chapel of his funeral home. Joseph Garr sometimes carries a revolver in his hearse. Carl Swann Jr. is contemplating leaving the business.
The three directors of black funeral parlors here have been assaulted at services and each has had gunshots fired during burials. Concealed-weapons, pre-funeral intelligence briefings, cameras, panic buttons and armed security guards are becoming as much a part of services as the eulogy.
“I’ve been in this business 42 years and I’m jittery now,” Mr. Glover says.
Across the country, black morticians are changing the way they operate. The reason: a spike in African-American murders — and the violence that sometimes follows victims to the grave. In an echo of more volatile parts of the world, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, African-American morticians report seeing an increase in violent behavior, and occasional killings, at funerals.
The violation of the once-sacrosanct funeral is one byproduct of a little-noticed upswing in the murder rate of African-Americans. The number of blacks killed in America, mostly by other blacks, has been edging up at a time when the rate for other groups has been flat or falling.
As a result, the black murder-victim toll exceeds that of the far larger white population. According to the most recent statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the number of whites murdered dropped slightly, to 6,956 from 7,005 between 2004 and 2006. The number of blacks killed rose 11%, to 7,421 from 6,680.
African-Americans, who make up 13% of the population, have long had a higher homicide rate than other groups. And the total number of black murders is still significantly lower than in the early 1990s, when the U.S. was hit by a wave of drug-related killings. At that time, though, “funeral homes used to be the most respected places you could walk into beside the church,” says Jeff Gardner, a co-owner of A.D. Porter & Sons in Louisville, Ky., and a third-generation undertaker. “Nobody respects life and the young folks nowadays don’t mind dying.”
What worries law enforcement, criminologists and sociologists is that there’s no unifying theme to explain today’s increase. Some killings are drug related. Researchers trace others to a glut of ex-felons re-entering society. I personally attribute some of this to the new slavery”Jim Crow” tactics in place that don’t allow re-education or fair employment for a race or species “Felons” that are disenfranchised and left to repeat their past to survive. Others correlate the rise in murders to the lack of a proper education.
Black funeral homes, long a fixture of African-American communities, offer a stark perspective from which to view the trend. There are no comprehensive statistics on assaults or other crimes at funerals. And the violence has not touched all black communities. Still, the topic has become a hot one in the industry.
Rising Incidence of Violence
Last year, the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association — a black trade group — held a panel discussion at its Philadelphia convention about the rising incidence of violence on funeral premises. Among some strategies recommended: increasing security and not publicizing funerals.
Since 2006, police in Boston, Goldsboro, N.C., Louisville, Los Angeles and St. Louis have investigated black murders that occurred at or immediately after funeral services. Of five cases reviewed for this article, four were at the funerals of other murder victims. Two were gang related. One was a revenge killing. Two remain unexplained.
Sitting in the office of his funeral parlor on Reading Road in Cincinnati, funeral director Mr. Glover, 58 years old, can see images from three cameras at once. They allow him to view all the public areas inside the House of Glover Funeral Service as well as the back door. He’s had the system up and running for three months.
On at least two occasions, he says, gunfire at grave sites forced him to dive into the dirt. “Bullets don’t have names,” he says.
If a funeral has the possibility of “drama,” as he puts it, Mr. Glover hires security at $25 to $50 an hour per guard. He also assembles his staff two hours prior to a wake for a briefing. “We have a meeting so you know who is who, what to look for and watch out for each other,” he says.
Cincinnati is a microcosm of the national picture. Here, black morticians meet regularly. In past months the primary discussion has been about safety. Recently, funeral directors went on local radio talk shows in three one-hour sessions. The subject: escalating violence at funerals.
According to the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association, the average cost of an African-American funeral is about $4,500. In many cases, the specter of violence is driving costs up. In Cincinnati, security firms make regular appearances at services, adding as much as $500 to the bill. Surveillance systems can cost $2,000 or more just to install.
“We’ve had to alternate funeral procession routes because we have been tipped off,” says Duane Weems, president of Elite Protective Services, a local security firm. “Attendees to the church service will tell us that this gang is waiting down there.”
Youth violence touches many communities. But its impact on funeral directors is often overlooked. It’s inevitavble that the profession will sometimes hit close to home. Black funeral professionals share emotional stories of their service to those who died too soon.
The black church has come to understand its critical space in the rituals
of the dead. Funerals have been its everyday business, and the black
church brought ceremony and extended ritual to this experience. Its
passion has been, from my perspective, the ways and means of catharsis;
and is responsible in great measure for the sustained resilience
and strength of these vulnerable communities.
African-American burial and embalming rituals, funeral services and undertaking industry are all examined in Passed on: African American Mourning Stories — A Memorial a cultural analysis of death and dying among 20th-century black Americans. Duke University English professor Karla F.C. Holloway combines historical research with interviews of present-day undertakers and others as she chronicles the discrimination and violent threats faced by black funeral parlor owners; the development of rituals like open-casket services and processions; and the influence of disproportionately violent black deaths on mourning practices. Punctuated with Holloway’s personal stories (including that of her son’s death), the book is an elegantly written survey for general readers and cultural historians alike.
After the violent death of her son, Duke University professor and author Karla FC Holloway found herself dealing with loss, grief and the finality of death. Like many authors, Holloway found that researching and writing about the rituals of death became the catharsis for her own pain.
In Passed on: African American Mourning Stories — A Memorial, Holloway creates a “portrait of death and dying in twentieth-century African-America.” Holloway’s endeavor feels random, and at times, vacillating among historical accounts of the emergence of African-American funeral home businesses, to a short study of violence in the African-American community, to the various “rituals of death” that have developed over the century.
Holloway suggests that the violence that has historically plagued African Americans has played a significant role in the perception of death in African-American culture. She writes, “The generational circumstance may change, but the violence done to black bodies has had a consistent history . . . paired with the cultural expectations of an open casket, presented a particular challenge to the black mortician’s skills.”
Historical factoids, such as the origins of funeral wreaths and observations of such traditions as the “homecoming”– the great trek South when a family member living in the region passes — are interesting, yet when offered alongside pictures, and very real accounts of brutality and violence, her observations seem more like random trivia than seamless information.
The documentation of African Americans and their death passages, as they were, are intriguing. However, Holloway’s transgression from the cultural and historical origins to stories focusing on the deaths of famous African Americans somehow lessens the scope of what seemed to be the true intention of her work, to present a thorough look at death through the cultural eye of African Americans.
Does Music Influence Youth To Commit Violence?
“And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. ” —Exodus 32:17-19
YES, YES, YES, absolutely, yes, of course, music DOES have a profound impact on youth! You can influence anyone through media, whether it be music or video. But in particular, children and teens have extremely impressionable minds.
1st Samuel 16:23 evidences the incredible power of music. When the lad David played on his musical harp, the Bible says that king Saul’s evil spirit departed from him. My friend (and don’t miss this truth please), if music can be used to make an evil spirit depart from a person, then music can also be used to invite an evil spirit to come and stay!!!
What a shame that our society isn’t filled with beautiful music as it once was. In the early days on TV, amateur family groups were featured playing musical instruments. There were few big shots back then. Nowadays it’s all commercialized music, and you have to sell your soul to the Devil (literally) to become famous. Music has lost it’s purity, like everything else. America was so much better off during the days of the Little League neighborhood baseball teams. Back then you could sell lemonade without a license.
Society never learns… the riots of the 1960’s, Charles Manson, rampant sexual immorality in America, the abortion industry, Columbine, indifference everywhere, tolerated wickedness and corruption… it’s all a consequence of the DESENSITIZATION by Godless television and worldly music! Each succeeding generation of youth in America are becoming more selfish, more wicked, more arrogantly proud, more woefully naive and more distant from the God of the Bible. Entertainment, pleasures and sports have assaulted our youth spiritually—leading them astray from God’s Word, hindering them from coming to the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved and making them indifferent toward everything good, Christian, decent, moral, upright and holy. We are now surviving as Christians in a sewer society of moral toxicity and rotten decay. Hardly anyone cares anymore!
Moses had gone up upon the mount to get God’s Commandments. When Moses hadn’t returned for a couple weeks, some of the Jews demanded from Aaron (Moses brother) that he provide for them a god. So Aaron reluctantly had them give of all their jewelry, housewares and anything made of gold, melting it into a GOLDEN CALF. The people began dancing, got drunk, took their clothes off and worshipped the golden calf. When Joshua and Moses were coming down from the mountainside, they heard “A NOISE OF WAR IN THE CAMP,” which the Bible says was “THE NOISE OF THEM THAT SING”!
It was David’s beautiful harp playing that caused king Saul’s evil spirit to leave. 1st Samuel 16:23, “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” Likewise, as we just learned from the idolatrous Israelites dancing around the golden calf, it was music (the “noise of them that sing” the Bible calls it) that accompanied an evil spirit of REBELLION!!! Rock music is synonymous with rebellion, sexual immorality and substance abuse (drugs and alcohol). Increasingly we are also seeing body piercings, self-mutilation and tattoos from head-to-toe associated with darker forms of worldly music.
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