'Rowdy funeral' taskforce comes to an end

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By Nona Tepper

On June 21, a passenger in a funeral procession reportedly jumped out of his car, landed on a neighboring vehicle hood and started dancing. On June 3, a Chicago man brought a gun for protection to a funeral party in Forest Home Cemetery. In early May, police ticketed nine cars traveling as part of a funeral procession down Roosevelt Road, with passengers hanging out of windows, vehicles swerving into oncoming lanes and creating "general disorder" on the roads.  

At least three chaotic funeral processions have passed through Forest Park since May. But the Cook County Funeral and Cemetery Violence Taskforce has ended. Forest Park Police Chief Thomas Aftanas said the taskforce essentially ended after its chartering member, County Commissioner Richard Boykin, lost his re-election bid to new Commissioner Brandon Johnson in November 2018. 

Boykin partnered with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to established the taskforce in March of that year, bringing together funeral directors, cemetery owners and law enforcement officials to find solutions to chaotic funeral processions, nicknamed "rowdy funerals," after constituents in Hillside and the Austin neighborhood of Chicago complained about their prevalence. Aftanas said these processions are often occur following the death of Chicago gang members, as the funeral party travels to suburban cemeteries for the burial.

"For the most part, it's not the family members causing problems," Aftanas said. "I'm not suggesting to stop processions altogether; I think it's important for families.

"It's a tough situation," Aftanas added. "We want to be respectful but sometimes we have to take action because someone's going to get hurt." 

The last time the group met was in November 2018, he said, where they finalized a set of five recommendations to cope with the problem. The Cook County Sheriff's Office said the taskforce sent five recommendations to Boykin but was unsure if Boykin ever sent them on to the full board for consideration. 

The recommendations called for greater communication between funeral homes and the Chicago Police Department, and for Chicago police to notify suburban departments that a rowdy funeral is coming through. Another recommendation suggested new legislation to increase fines, or harsher punishment for those engaged in chaotic processions. 

"Even increased penalties, I'm not sure if that's going to help," Aftanas said. "It's very difficult to do a traffic stop during a funeral procession, it actually can make things worse at times." 

They also proposed extra security from the sheriff's department at cemeteries in Hillside, where the majority of rowdy funerals are headed. In Forest Park, Aftanas said, Forest Home Cemetery is the only place where chaotic processions occur. He speculated that it might be because it was a non-denominational space, and that the cost of burial plots could play a role. The number of rowdy funerals that have occurred this year so far is about the same as last year, he noted, but the department doesn't track the numbers. 

"Once we met a couple of times and identified the problems and found possible solutions, I don't think there was a need to keep it going," Aftanas said of the taskforce. "As long as we have the communication, and trying get a heads up on it before it actually arrives in town, we can prepare a little for it. That's the main thing."  

Nona Tepper

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