Chronic grief overtaking black communities
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org August 3, 2012 6:44PM
Teens gather outside a boarded up house in the 600 block of North Avers on the West Side on Thusday afternoon, soon after the bodies of two slain 16-year-olds — Cornell Ferguson and Johnqualas Turner — were removed from the scene. A third boy boy injured
Updated: September 6, 2012 6:25AM
A photograph of the site in the Humboldt Park neighborhood where young people gathered after two teen boys were gunned down Thursday says a lot about the toll violence is taking.
About a dozen or so teens kept a vigil on the steps of a boarded up house in the 600 block of North Avers. As soon as the boys’ bodies were taken away and word spread about the shootings, a monument of balloons and posters sprang up.
Coming after Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s contention that the city’s murder total for July was the third-lowest since 1987, the midday shooting was especially alarming.
People expect bad things to happen late at night when teens are on the streets after curfew. But this attack happened before 1 p.m.
McCarthy’s strategy to reduce homicides in the city may have taken hold elsewhere, but not where 16-year-olds Cornell Ferguson and Johnqualas Turner were killed.
The teens collapsed and died in nearby yards. Another teen was treated for a gunshot wound and released from the hospital.
It used to be when a teen was killed under any circumstances, mothers would snatch up their children and keep them inside as if they were trying to hide them from the Angel of Death.
Mourners would stop by the grieving family’s house carrying trays of food and just sit quietly. But the prolonged killings of young black people have resulted in a macabre cultural shift when it comes to the grieving process.
Mourners leave empty liquor bottles and cigarette packages on the spot where the victim died. They order T-shirts with an image of the fallen and distribute them to the dead youth’s family and friends. They string up balloons like they are getting ready for the family reunion picnic.
The Rev. Oscar Crear, pastor of New Tiberia Missionary Baptist Church at 2156 W. Wellington, is one of the pastors called upon to perform funeral services for young people who have no church home.
“People struggle for a long time after a violent death,” Crear told me during a recent interview. “A lot of young people are suffering from chronic grief. They are not handling this very well.”
Some ask, “ ‘How can I bury my son this week and bury your son the following week?’ ” Crear said. “When people go to funeral after funeral it impacts them.”
But there’s a new trend when it comes to expressing grief, Crear pointed out.
For instance, last year Crear was called on to conduct the services for a 21-year-old woman shot in the head during a dice game.
“Her family put up a Facebook page and she got 5,000 likes in three days. At the funeral, nearly 2,000 people showed up. On the way to the cemetery, cars were zig-zagging out of line and people were passing blunts and Hennessy,” Crear said. “That’s the way a lot of young people handle this stuff.”
He argues that the daily violence in black communities has led to chronic grief. It is grief that is driving the violence.
On Sept. 28, Crear’s church, along with Devell Johnson Funeral Service, will present a daylong seminar targeting professionals who come in contact with families when young people are killed.
The conference will include a memorial service for the victims of the gun violence.
“I don’t want to go to another march to stop the violence,” Crear said. “I am weary. I want to bring a group of professionals together for a conference and take a realistic look at this new trend of grief.”
Johnson has buried more young people than old in recent years.
“The big question is, what do we do after the march? After Minister [Louis] Farrakhan goes back home and Jesse [Jackson Sr.] and Al [Sharpton] stop marching. We’ve got to figure it out. It can’t go on like this is normal, with people selling T-shirts and having a big parade,” Johnson said.
“It is getting to the point that they are numb to funerals. This has become an event with people wondering who is going to be next,” he said. “People can’t grieve. They’ve got to go to the next funeral. They don’t feel anything. They shut down.”
McCarthy argues that gang members have a “much higher risk of being involved in violent episodes than anyone else.”
That is certainly the case.
But that doesn’t make the violence any easier to bear. Many of the people outside of gangs — the caregivers, social workers, teachers, relatives and innocents — suffer from the deaths being blamed on those gangs.
In order for the shooting to stop, the healing has to start.
The “House of Pain Educational Conference” is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 28 at the New Tiberia Baptist Church. For more information, call (773) 880-0920.