Communities are being torn apart by violence — leaving funeral directors around the country planning funerals for young lives taken too soon.
It’s a problem countless funeral homes in major cities see. The New York Times reports that from 2014-2015 murders have increased:
- 76% in Milwaukee
- 60% in St. Louis
- 56% in Baltimore
- 44% in Washington D.C.
- 22% in New Orleans
According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago has had 460 homicides since August 22nd of 2016. While there are still four months left in the year, the homicide rate is just 30 killings away from matching the 2015 total. In one weekend alone, 26 people were shot, four of which were fatal shootings. One of the shootings occurred at a vigil for a 14-year-old boy killed the day before in another shooting.
2016 has been a violent year for cities all across the country. Experts have yet to explain the sudden spike. In an article for the L.A. Times, FBI Director James Comey stated, “It’s being reported on at local levels, but in my view, it’s not getting the attention at the national level it deserves. I don’t know what the answer is, but holy cow, do we have a problem.”
Funeral Directors’ Perspectives
As families are left piecing their lives back together, several funeral directors have shed light on the problem their funeral homes face:
- In an article by NBC news, A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home spoke about the issues they deal with. It includes securing police protection to control the crowds, avoiding certain gang colors at services, and navigating special routes from the funeral home to the cemetery to avoid any potential danger.
- The Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee wrote about a funeral director, Angie Moore, who has seen her share of violence. Out of the 246 funerals the funeral home had in 2014, Moore said that around 15% were homicide victims — including a six-year-old girl.
- The Baltimore Sun and Associated Press did an in-depth report on Baltimore’s most violent year, and how the funeral homes coped. Homicide was so bad that funeral director John Williams went from doing three funerals a month to two funerals a week. Many of the funerals were for those in their teens and twenties.
Violence at the Funeral Home
Unfortunately, the violence has followed its way back to the funeral home. In cities with high levels of gang-related activity — like Chicago and Los Angeles — it’s not uncommon for more violence to take place at the funeral of a homicide victim.
As families come together to mourn, rival gangs use it as an opportunity, and — as was the case back in September of 2015 in Los Angeles — it sometimes results in a shootout that leaves more victims.
Taking a Stand
Funeral directors in these cities are doing their best. They are helping families heal, but it doesn’t stop there. Funeral directors are no strangers to problems plaguing their community. And they aren’t going to let their communities be torn apart. They are taking a stand.
Funeral directors across the country are facing the issue of violence head-on:
- In Cleveland, funeral directors united in an effort to bring awareness to the issue. They organized a procession of 24 empty hearses. The hearses had signs saying, “if you don’t stop the shooting, this may be your next ride” and other anti-violence slogans. The procession concluded with a prayer vigil and a call to action for future meetings to act against violence.
- In St. Louis, a similar procession of funeral directors took place. Ten hearses and hundreds of motorcycles led a Stop the Violence Rally which attracted crowds of more than 3,000 people.
Similar rallies have taken place in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and states across the country in an effort to raise awareness and organize action to end violence in communities.
If your funeral home is looking to take a stand against violence and help the families you serve, here are some resources and ideas to get you started.
- Work with your state’s funeral director association to organize a meeting or rally in your city.
- Talk about starting an initiative with religious leaders in your community.
- Use resources from the National Organization for Victim Assistance to help aid grieving families.
- Consider talking with these national organizations that are working to end community violence: National Campaign to Stop Violence, Students Against Violence Everywhere, Cure Violence, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.