On the eve of the day the Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, more than 1,000 stricken mourners spent six wrenching hours on Saturday laying their children to rest and wondering why violent death seems to become a full-time resident of their Miami neighborhoods.
Sixteen-year-old Richard Hallman, of Allapattah, and 10-year-old Marlon Eason, of Overtown, who didn’t know another in life but have been bonded in their so-far inexplicable shooting deaths, were buried following separate funerals in the same church.
“God, we sometimes don’t understand you,” pled one member of parade of ministers, teachers and friends who took the stage of the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church during the afternoon’s long spasm of grief. “Bring peace to the community, God ... Do it for the babies’ sake.”
Richard and Marlon were killed on March 27 in shootings separated by a couple of hours and a few blocks which, nonetheless, seem to have been unrelated. Many mourners stayed for both funerals, and their cars snarled traffic and parking for 10 blocks in every direction.
The services, in many ways, merged into one long outpouring of despondent questions about why the lives of so many Miami kids are taken so cruelly and so soon. At Richard’s funeral, one man wore a t-shirt bearing the legend, Can anybody tell me why the good die so young? At Marlon’s, a dozen or more asked the question, Where is the love?
Even some of the hymns seemed perplexed and forlorn: “Take me to the King, I don’t have much to bring, my heart is torn in pieces, it’s my offering ...”
“Growing up in the ‘hood, once upon a time, we almost raised another,” said the Rev. Dwayne Bennett Sr., of Overtown’s Grace in the Park Ministries, during Marlon’s service. Now “we’re being condemned, we’re being beaten down.”
In a gesture that somehow managed to be generous, dismal and heart-rending at the same time, he announced he was donating eight burial plots for future victims of street violence.
Some speakers said their communities have to force a day of reckoning with street gangs, the presumed killers in both shootings. “We gotta take back the streets,” said funeral director Dwight Richardson, who gestured at Marlon’s casket and added: “This is a child whose life is lost and didn’t do nothin’ wrong...
“You may not pay today, but you‘re going to pay tomorrow. This is a child who could have made a difference in the world.”
The mourners at Marlon’s service included many friends and classmates who were seemingly too young to really understand what a funeral is all about. But they clearly did. One little boy was handed the microphone to read a short tribute to his friend. Instead, his face fell to his hand and he froze there, mute and paralyzed, until a woman standing nearby gently led him away.
Marlon’s casket was bright yellow, his favorite color, and adorned with the stylized word Mustang, the make of the car he planned to drive someday. It was surrounded by dozens of floral arrangements, including one fashioned as his hero Spiderman, another showing a basketball swishing through a net ... and two that depicted cracked hearts.
It took nearly an hour for the mourners to file by Richard’s casket. Some stopped to kiss his cheek or pat his shoulder; many were quiet, lost in their own grief. A few collapsed in sobs. One woman, gripped by denial and desperately seeking confirmation, cried out, “Richard, it’s a dream!” A very bad one.