CHICAGO (STMW) -- More than 200 local residents, fed up with what they perceive to be dangerous gang-related funeral processions rolling through their Beverly and Mount Greenwood communities, were staged a silent protest Saturday afternoon.
Residents gathered at the west end of Kennedy Park and were headed south to Mount Hope Cemetery at 115th Street and Washtenaw Avenue. Families with children showed up to voice their opposition to what they say are unruly processions, where funeral-goers hang out of car windows, flash gang signs, carry guns and snarl traffic.
"We are not protesting funeral processions," organizer Tony Bansley said. "We are protesting gang activity coming into our community and Mount Hope."
Bansley, 42, a lifelong resident of the Beverly community, said he spent the better part of this year collecting hard evidence to support their claims. Among that evidence, photos he snapped of a funeral procession last summer going into Mount Hope Cemetery, where a woman was hanging out a car window, completely topless.
He also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chicago Police Department – he wanted to know how many times police have responded to gang activity in funeral processions heading to Mount Hope Cemetery. He said he was shocked at the results.
"200 times in the past three years," Bansley said, flipping through the stack of correspondence. "They're citing guns, gang signs, vulgarity, fights, reckless driving."
Bansley says the community is also fighting for overall better management of funeral processions, and for someone to be held accountable for what he calls dangerous behavior.
"We want a city ordinance against this activity," Bansley said. "We want an automatic impoundment, arrest and charges against anyone driving recklessly in these processions."
Another problem, Bansley said, is that Mount Hope, which he says can do up to 20 funerals a day, only has one entrance on 115th Street, which causes traffic congestion.
"We're working for them (the owners) to open an entrance on the 119th Street side of the cemetery," Bansley said. "The Troost family (who owns the cemetery) hasn't been cooperative with us in the past; they told us we were just racist."
However, Bansley said, a group of local politicians, Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), state Rep. Bill Cunningham and state Sen. Ed Maloney, have been actively brokering discussions between the Troost family, as well as city leaders, to fix the problem.
According to an e-mail Bansley presented from Cunningham, a "Memorandum of Understanding" has been reached with the cemetery owners that "outlines several measures all involved parties will take to address the problem."
"Once signed, this memorandum will be legally binding," the email states. "Currently, it is under review by City, County, and State attorneys ... (this) represents for the first time, genuine progress in our fight to improve security and traffic conditions around Mt. Hope Cemetery."
"I hope they do end up signing this," Bansley said.
Bansley wanted to make it clear that they were only protesting gang activity, and not funeral processions in general.
Co-organizer of the event, Kathleen Walsh, 56, also of Beverly, said funeral processions have become a way of life for the community.
"The South Side is surrounded by cemeteries," Walsh said. "That's part of our tradition. We stop for processions and bow our heads and say a prayer. I feel terrible for the ones who are grieving (in the gang-member processions) who do come here in such a sad state; those grieving who are being terrorized by gang members."
Saturday's demonstration had been scheduled for some time, but on Friday, as police helicopters hovered overhead and unmarked squad cars patrolled the streets, tensions erupted at the funeral of slain teen rapper Joseph "Lil JoJo" at a funeral parlor about 5 1/2 miles north of Saturday's protest.
Chicago police had to clear the funeral home when mourners surged the casket, nearly tipping it over. Outside, some mourners smoked weed in the parking lot, and police ended up confiscating a loaded .45-caliber pistol.
Lil JoJo's funeral on Friday wound south to Mount Hope Cemetery, and police got calls of shots fired from a car at 115th and Kedzie. There also were reports of someone waving a gun out of a car window.
Police closed down several blocks of 115th Street near Fairfield on Friday, and officers from Chicago, Cook County and Merrionette Park stopped cars outside the cemetery, searching people. A gang disturbance was reported at a gas station at 111th Street and Talman, where police found the loaded pistol.
Brandy Von Vossen, 31, of Merrionette Park, who participated in Saturday's march with her husband, Josh, 32, and their 1-year-old and 3-year-old children, said she witnessed Friday's melee.
"It's pretty scary," Von Vossen said. "Yesterday was pretty bad; we've seen cars pull up sideways in intersections blocking all traffic. My friend and her four-year-old son were screamed at during one of the break-of processions on Pulaski yesterday.
"We can't walk around in Merrionette Park anymore because these processions happen a couple times a week" Von Vossen said.
James McGann, 42, of Chicago's Morgan Park community, said the problem is "getting ridiculous."
"I don't have a problem with funeral processions. I mean, who would," McGann said as he marched. "We don't even leave the windows open during the day because of this."
Sue Pfiefer, 35, said she's been run off the road by one of the funeral processions.
"I see it all the time, I just wasn't aware everyone else was," Pfiefer said. "(Friday) was dangerous, I tried to stay inside. Even with all the police cars with them (in the procession), they were still acting like that."
Bansley created a Facebook event a few weeks ago promoting the march. An estimated 250 people showed up at Saturday's demonstration. The group started in Kennedy Park, marched south on Western, then west on 115th Street, and stopped 300 feet from the cemetery entrance, as per city ordinance.
Attempts to contact the Troost family and O'Shea's office were unsuccessful Saturday.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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