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Alderman’s call for annexation of Mount Hope cemetery smacks of bias

It may be time to stop funeral processions, but ditch the gang stigmatization.

A hearse leads a funeral procession into Mount Hope Cemetery, on Saturday, September 15, 2012. Sun-Times file

I have several close family members buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

So it is particularly hurtful this far South Side cemetery is now being stigmatized as the “gang cemetery.”

Without a doubt, there are gang members buried at Mount Hope — alongside pastors, teachers, barbers and nurses.

If you go there and read the headstones, you’ll find the dead from every walk of life.

It is the living causing the problems that have led Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) to call for the annexation of the cemetery to the city of Chicago to what — lock it down?

The shooters aren’t just causing trouble at the entrance of Mount Hope cemetery. They are causing trouble on the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower expressways; on Lake Shore Drive; and on main thoroughfares and side streets.

People have been getting shot left and right on our roadways, and a lot of those shootings don’t have a thing to do with gangs.

That’s what I find troubling about O’Shea’s tirade over a shooting that recently occurred outside of the cemetery’s front gate.

When someone opened fire on a car that was blocking traffic last month, a 53-year-old man was wounded, and flying glass cut two other people, including a child.

Although the shooting had nothing to do with gangs, O’Shea chose to frame it that way.

“For far too long, we’ve had these episodes of shootings and pursuits in and out of cemeteries, rival gangs settling their disputes in a funeral procession. My community’s been under siege,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Beverly? Morgan Park? I don’t think so.

A few traffic cops — like the ones who direct traffic outside of major entertainment venues — would likely have prevented this incident.

But, frankly, maybe it is time for us to give up on long funeral processions.

I’ve been in processions where I feared for my life because motorists were upset by the long line of cars.

Besides, there is little respect for this tradition anymore.

“There’s a lot of anger out there,” noted Spencer Leak, Sr., owner and president of Leak & Son’s Funeral Home, an 80-year old family-owned business.

“What I am asking families to do is to consider not having that processional. When you have grieving families and long lines of cars with young people, they tend to act up,” he said.

“We try to encourage the family that once everything is over at the funeral home, to just say that the burial will be private,” he said.

He acknowledged, however, that most families want many of their friends at the burial site.

“During these dangerous times, that is not the best decision to make,” he added.

Unfortunately, too many shooters are able to get away quickly because in all the chaos no one had the presence of mind to get a license plate number.

These are societal problems — not Mount Hope’s.

What O’Shea is really railing against is the burying of so many Black bodies in an area of the city occupied by white residents who are apparently put off by the processionals.

“They have two points of entry, but they seldom use the second entry, which causes traffic backups for hours at a time. ... Today between 12 and 2 p.m., they have 12 scheduled funeral processions. ... Multiple homicide victims from gang shootings. These types of events routinely cause very dangerous bottlenecks,” O’Shea told the Sun-Times.

In 2012, the cemetery agreed to build a “back entrance” to deal with the traffic congestion, but, really, what funeral director is going to tell a grieving black person the family has to enter the cemetery through the back door?

If Mount Hope didn’t serve so many black families, I believe the “road rage” shooting would not have been handled in this manner.

In 2017, when a man was fatally shot at a grave-site service in Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park, no one smeared that cemetery.

And when a man was shot during a funeral at a west suburban cemetery in an unincorporated Cook County that same year, no one called for annexation.

But when a shooting occurs in or near Mount Hope, it is characterized as a “gang cemetery.”

That’s a tired slur that needs to “RIP.”