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Rowdy Gang Funerals Spur Push for Crackdown

By Howard Ludwig | October 16, 2013 7:46am | Updated on October 16, 2013 1:42pm
 A YouTube video from March 2012 shows a gang funeral procession headed toward Mount Hope Cemetery near Beverly and Morgan Park.
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MORGAN PARK — Fellow lawmakers thought state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) was joking when he introduced legislation aimed at rowdy funeral processions.

Then he showed them the YouTube videos.

The videos show mourners hanging out the windows and doors of moving vehicles, flashing gang signs and blaring explicit music. Parades of cars with flashing taillights swerve in and out of traffic.

Residents of Beverly and Morgan Park have also reported mourners brandishing guns, threatening passersby and even topless women in funeral processions, Cunningham said.

The City Council on Wednesday approved an ordinance giving police the authority to fine drivers upwards of $750 for reckless driving in funeral processions.The law would allow for impounding vehicles involved in such incidents.

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"At the end of the day, the point we made is this is just so disrespectful," Cunningham said.

The funeral processions that create these problems often involve gang members, and they all end at Mount Hope Cemetery at 11500 S. Fairfield Ave., in Morgan Park, according to Cunningham and Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), who introduced the city ordinance targeting unruly funeral processions.

Speaking before fellow aldermen Wednesday, O'Shea said the new penalties would "help make the Southwest Side safer."

"The rampant, disrespectful, lack of respect for the living and the dead in funeral processions on the Southwest Side, specifically headed to Mount Hope Cemetery, is completely out of control, completely dangerous, putting children and families in harm's way," O'Shea said.

The measure passed on a 49-0 vote.

Cunningham said the problems at the Southwest Side cemetery can be traced to the late owner, Robert Troost. A few years before his death in 2010, Troost changed his business model at Mount Hope. He theorized a low-cost, high-volume approach would boost sales in an area laden with burial grounds.

It worked. When Robert's son, Scott Troost, took over the business after his father's death, Mount Hope was the busiest cemetery in Illinois with about 3,000 burials per year, Cunningham said.

Congestion from funeral processions quickly became an issue for residents along 115th Street in Morgan Park. Cunningham and O'Shea hoped that Scott Troost would honor his late father's written agreement to add an entrance and exit at 119th Street.

Adding the 119th Street driveway would allow for a much-needed "relief valve" at the cemetery, Cunningham said. He said this would be particularly useful when one funeral is arriving and another is leaving.

Cunningham said Troost, who did not respond to a request for comment for this story, initially balked at his father's commitment to the additional entrance. Around this same time, residents complaining about congestion also began to voice concerns about safety, Cunningham said.

"Residents saw a lot of people waving guns," he said.

On Sept. 13, police arrested mourners after the burial of slain teen rapper Joseph "Lil JoJo" Coleman. After frisking about 30 people including Coleman's family members, a loaded .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol was found.

This led to a community meeting and a peaceful protest outside Mount Hope. Cunningham also introduced legislation to cap the number of funerals a for-profit cemetery could host.

The legislation never became law, but it brought Troost to the bargaining table. Private security and traffic management workers were added. Mount Hope also agreed to better coordinate funeral processions to keep all cars from converging at once, Cunningham said.

Troost also committed to building the entrance and exit at 119th Street. The curb has been cut, and the cemetery still needs to get approval from the county for the secondary driveway. It's expected to open before the end of the year, Cunningham said.

"I think [the Troost family] is making an effort to be a good neighbor now," he said.

Giving police the ability to impound vehicles and ticket drivers is another tool intended to curb disrespectful and dangerous behavior in funeral processions, Cunningham said.

This solution was suggested by a Chicago police officer living near Mount Hope who noticed that the threat of impounding vehicles deterred drivers from playing loud music. He officer thinks the threat will deter unruly mourners as well, Cunningham said.

Katy Roche of Morgan Park can see funeral processions on the way to Mount Hope from her front door. She's witnessed mourners flashing gang signs and even driving on the sidewalks near her home, she said.

"I do think there's a need for [the pending ordinance]. And I think it will help," Roche said.

Critics, though, have said this whole effort is rife with racial undertones. Most of the people being buried at Mount Hope are black. The surrounding cemeteries and neighborhoods are mostly white.

"People have played the race card, and that's not what this is about," Cunningham said.

He said the issues that resulted in the ordinance have more to do with traffic, safety and honoring the dead. He said he knows that as long as street gangs exist there needs to be someplace to bury their members and victims.

"The problems aren't ever going to go completely away," he said.

Contributing: Ted Cox