Weather Updates

Thuggery en route to Mount Hope

Scott McMorrow comforts  Joi Cornelios 31 left fiancee Malcom Dowdy during candle light vigil locatiwhere Malcom Dowdy 33

Scott McMorrow, comforts Joi Cornelios, 31, left, fiancee to Malcom Dowdy, during a candle light vigil, at the location where Malcom Dowdy, 33 was gunned down during this past Memorial Day weekend. June 26, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

storyidforme: 37678843
tmspicid: 13815861
fileheaderid: 6359399

Updated: November 1, 2012 6:34AM

Skip the statistics about just how big a killing field Chicago’s South and West sides have become.

Skip the debate over whether it matters that overall crime has decreased despite the increase in shootings and death.

Numbers can be numbing.

Listen instead to my colleague, Margaret, who tried to do a simple thing, drive to her southwest suburban home one sunny afternoon. And ended up scared to death.

“It was late May,” she told me, “and I was westbound on 115th Street when I saw a funeral procession going eastbound into the Mount Hope Cemetery.”

Mount Hope sits in the 19th Ward amid well-manicured lawns, quiet parks and churches.

Margaret (she asks I omit her last name) was raised on Chicago’s South Side and is a broadcast engineer for a local television station.

On this day, she found herself suddenly trapped in terrifying traffic.

“Two cars filled with young men blocked the westbound lanes in front of me,” she said. Another car pulled up beside her.

“The young men,” she said, “were hanging out the windows throwing gang signs. Music was blaring. There were young ladies hanging out of windows and screaming, too.”

One young man ordered Margaret to “Be cool!” she said. “In other words, ‘you better watch yourself.’ ”

“I raised my hands in consternation, looked straightforward and prayed,” she said.

What happened to Margaret was not an isolated event. Residents — white, black and Hispanic — in the Beverly and Morgan Park neighborhoods tell similar stories.

“My residents are sick and tired of this,” said 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea.

The problem is multifaceted. Because of the scandal at nearby Burr Oak Cemetery, Mount Hope has accepted more customers. Given the jump in homicides coupled with the fact that many of the dead are young and poor — and Mount Hope’s plots relatively inexpensive — a small percentage of its clientele brings a high degree of notoriety.

And danger.

YouTube is filled with videos of cars speeding through these residential neighborhoods, sometimes with random gunfire, and mourners out of control.

It’s happening in other parts of the city, too.

Rev. Oscar Crear, pastor at the New Tiberia Baptist Church on the North Side, has seen fistfights in funeral parlors and wild funeral processions.

He ties the behavior to the sheer amount of violence that young people now encounter. “Nobody has given them a channel to get rid of this energy or this pain, so [they react by saying] ‘I’ll scream, I’ll get a gun, I’ll get high,’ ” he said. “ ‘Whatever I can do to get this pain out of me is what I’ll do.’ ”

Like post-traumatic stress, chronic pain accompanies chronic violence. It’s not an excuse, argues Rev. Crear, just an explanation.

“I don’t believe these young people are familiar with the respect or the profoundness of death,” worries my friend Margaret.

“My uncle is buried at Mount Hope,” she added.

A veteran of the Korean War who earned a Purple Heart for bravery, he was buried there two years ago.

“I’ve told my family we’re not visiting him,” Margaret said. “It’s too dangerous.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.