Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Culture of Black Funeral Parlor Violence

I've written recently on race and culture, topics arising presently out of Barack Obama's Wright controversy (see here and here).

My basic point has been, obviously, race still matters quite a bit in American politics, and despite
Obama's strenuous efforts to rise of above it, he's being ineluctably pulled back into the mire of racial identity.

A key point I've raised is that many of the problems of contemporary black America are rooted in an oppositional, anti-intellectual, and anti-achievement culture. This point is well discussed in
Academic literature and conservative commentary, but for addressing this I've naturally been labeled racist by left-wing grievance-mongering bloggers (here and here).

Thus I read with great interest today's Wall Street Journal story on black-on-black funeral parlor violence, "
Violence Roils Black Funeral Parlors":

Across the country, black morticians are changing the way they operate. The reason: a spike in African-American murders -- and the violence that sometimes follows victims to the grave. In an echo of more volatile parts of the world, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, African-American morticians report seeing an increase in violent behavior, and occasional killings, at funerals.

The violation of the once-sacrosanct funeral is one byproduct of a little-noticed upswing in the murder rate of African-Americans. The number of blacks killed in America, mostly by other blacks, has been edging up at a time when the rate for other groups has been flat or falling.

As a result, the black murder-victim toll exceeds that of the far larger white population....
African-Americans, who make up 13% of the population, have long had a higher homicide rate than other groups. And the total number of black murders is still significantly lower than in the early 1990s, when the U.S. was hit by a wave of drug-related killings. At that time, though, "funeral homes used to be the most respected places you could walk into beside the church," says Jeff Gardner, a co-owner of A.D. Porter & Sons in Louisville, Ky., and a third-generation undertaker. "Nobody respects life and the young folks nowadays don't mind dying."

What worries law enforcement, criminologists and sociologists is that there's no unifying theme to explain today's increase. Some killings are drug related. Researchers trace others to a glut of ex-felons re-entering society. Others correlate the rise in murders to the lack of a proper education.
As one can see, it's a complicated multi-causal phenomon, but I particularly find the anti-intellectual strain - acting like "whitey" - as an important variable for discussion. This passage from the article, on Carl Swann Jr.'s experience, is particularly revealing:

Mr. Swann, of Cincinnati, says his family has been burying the dead since the early 1900s. "I caught the school bus in front of the funeral home and I got off the bus in front of the funeral home," he says. Now, at age 37, he's thinking of getting out of the business.

One particularly harrowing experience was the funeral of Raeshaun Hand Jr. The ex-convict had continued to deal drugs after being released from prison, according to police, and was wanted at the time of his murder. Mr. Hand, 27, was found shot inside his car in February 2005.

Mr. Hand's father tried to keep the service private, but word got out. The father stood guard at the church door, trying to limit access. Some mourners made it in, drinking and smoking in the church bathroom, Mr. Swann says. Later as he prepared to close the casket, a large group rushed inside, pinning the undertaker.

"One dude punched me in front of the casket. The dead man's son was there and he got punched and his father was punched. My professionalism went out the window," Mr. Swann says. "I started fighting back, throwing punches. This wasn't in the job description and it doesn't come with the job."
Drinking and smoking in the church bathroom? Pinning the undertaker to the wall because it was time to close the casket, as part of the memorial service?

No wonder he wants to quit the business.

The article reveals the situation among many blacks where there's little attention to the normal civilities and courtesies of a polite society.

Such norms are traditionally transmitted in the home, and today, as was true when
the issue burst on the scene as a major social problem in the 19060s, the divergence from traditional cultural norms in the American urban black family presents one of the greatest impediments to realizing the tremendous opportunies of the post-civil rights era.

Again, this is a difficult topic to discuss, and to just raise such issues opens one up to the most rank denunciations and repudiations - one will be "unfairly pilloried," to use
Bill Kristol's term.

But the discussion's worth having, nevertheless (although the Journal's piece is not currently getting play on Memeorandum).