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After Mass Shooting Outside Funeral, Ex-County Leader Says It’s Time To Bring Back Task Force To Stop Violence At Memorials

“Funeral directors and funeral homes have been begging the police to be in attendance or at least be somewhere in eyeshot view so that it would discourage these types of things."

Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church senior pastor Roosevelt Watkins, III (standing) leads a town hall meeting in 2018 after six people were shot outside the church.
Lee Edwards/Block Club Chicago
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AUBURN GRESHAM — Tuesday evening’s mass shooting of 15 people outside a funeral home in Auburn Gresham has one former Cook County Commissioner calling for the recreation of a task force that focused on keeping people safe at funerals and cemeteries during services for their loved ones. 

The Cook County Funeral and Cemetery Violence Taskforce was created by then-First District representative Richard Boykin in 2017 after his constituents in Austin voiced concerns about violence at gang member funerals. 

Boykin partnered with the Cook County Sheriff’s department to create the 7-member task force with law enforcement, faith leaders and funeral directors meeting three times over the next year. The task force grew to 11 members but the last time it met was in November 2018, essentially ending its lifespan after Boykin lost his re-election bid to Brandon Johnson.

Boykin, who worked on many issues related to gun violence during his time as a Commissioner, is currently in private law practice.

It is important to note that had the task force been in place Tuesday, it may not have stopped the mass shooting on 79th Street. As outlined in the Taskforce’s December 17, 2018 report, issued at the end of its tenure, although it recommended that Cook County Sheriff’s officers and Chicago Police communicate, providing law enforcement officials to patrol outside a Chicago funeral home would be left to Chicago Police. The Cook County Sheriff’s Police would provide a visible presence only for funeral processions as they left the city to head to suburban cemeteries, the report said.

The existence of the task force itself was no guarantee that violence wouldn’t occur — six people were shot outside a funeral for a slain rapper at Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church, 9231 S. Cottage Grove on October 22, 2018 — a month after the task force’s first meeting.

The presence of Chicago Police didn’t seem to faze the shooters in the 79th Street incident Tuesday night, either.

Police Supt. David Brown said Wednesday there were two squad cars monitoring the funeral, as well as a tactical team in the area. The night before, First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter had said there was just one squad car monitoring the funeral.

But Boykin said the police presence should have been larger because they were warned about it beforehand from an anti-violence advocate.

Tamar Manasseh, founder of anti-violence group Mothers Against Senseless Killings Chicago, said she asked police for increased patrols in the area ahead of the funeral.

Manasseh said she informed both the 6th District (Gresham) and neighboring 7th District (Englewood) about the possibility of violence. Then, after the shooting, she posted on Facebook, “I told the police they were going to shoot up the funeral, AND THEY JUST DID!!!!!”

Boykin said the incident should have been avoided. 

“I think the real focus ought to be on actionable intelligence….When I think about what happened, the difficulty for me is that it was preventable.  I just don’t think they had enough patrol cars. They should have had several cars to deter that kind of violence,” Boykin said. 

Boykin added that he isn’t sure that Brown’s account of two squad cars in front of the funeral home is accurate.

“If you had two squads I don’t understand how a person shoots and doesn’t get caught. I just don’t get that.”

No one was in custody for the shooting Thursday morning, police said.

Boykin said he believes public officials should consider creating a task force like the one he created, or at least focus on the recommendations his task force gave in its final report. 

“I felt the main thing that came from the task force is that you have to have everybody communicating. And you have to work with the community too. You have to work with pastors and families of the deceased and if they give you an indication that this guy was a gangbanger or it was a gang hit, then you have to know that there may be some retaliation and you better have the right level of resources present.”

Charles Childs Jr., a funeral director and former member of the county task force, said he would love to see a similar task force created again. 

“Funeral directors and funeral homes have been begging the police to be in attendance or at least be somewhere in eyeshot view so that it would discourage these types of things,” Childs said.  “I was expecting Sheriff Dart and his people to either continue it or to at least follow through with some of the recommendations the task force presented.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart was not available for comment.

Asked Wednesday if she would like Cook County to bring back the task force, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the group disbanded before her time, but she was willing to explore any options to make these funerals safe.

“We have been working with funeral directors for months now, not only obviously to address the violence, but funeral directors have really been between a rock and a hard place when it comes to making sure that there’s compliance with the Covid-19 restrictions around the size of crowds,” she said. “We have been reaching out and will continue to reach out and see if we need to do more to help support these funeral directors so that people can safely grieve their loved ones and their friends.”

Chicago Police spokesman Sgt. Rocco Alioto, asked Wednesday if they would like to see the task force return, said “the department welcomes any additional resources offered in the fight against violent crime.”

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