Edward Pratt: Funerals now under threat of violence

Imagine, if you will, funeral workers carrying concealed weapons.

The first time Hall Davis IV mentioned that to me, it took some time to sink in. It bounced around in my head for about a month before I initially considered writing about it.

What he is talking about is yet another sad commentary on the deadly violence in the African-American community.

Davis, the owner of Hall Davis and Son Funeral Services, a large funeral home in Scotlandville, has been a leader in the fight against violence in the community. Through his work with 100 Black Men, he has been especially concerned about the mayhem in the African-American community.

That violence and some of its spillover has Davis very concerned about his safety, that of his employees and some of the families using his funeral home.

He is worried that he and his employees may be caught in the crossfire of retaliatory attacks against some family members he is transporting or providing services for at his Scenic Highway location. “I’m talking about when we pick up the family at their home, at the funeral home, at the church, at the cemetery and when we take them to the repast,” he said.

“There are people who are using social media, tweeting about what might occur at a funeral,” he said.

It may come to a point that funeral home employees may have to be armed and some may be armed already, hinted Davis. It has not reached that point for him, but it’s something he and other funeral directors around the country are considering, Davis said.

“Look, I have a commitment to the families and the people who work for me. I have to take care of them and make sure they are safe,” he said.

His contention could be brushed off as idle chatter if Davis didn’t hold the position of chairman of the board of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association Inc., the largest association of African-American funeral directors in the nation.

Through that position, he issued a warning during one of the organization’s anti-violence rallies last year in Atlanta that the group must “make funeral home directors aware that they have to put in some safety precautions when conducting funerals because we are beginning to have violence in funeral homes and churches.”

The need for security is having a financial effect on African-American funerals. The NFD&MA has reported that the average cost of an African-American funeral is about $4,500. But the need to prepare for possible violence is causing the price to rise because in some cities, funeral directors have had to hire security firms, and they have installed surveillance systems.

Davis said he recently installed of a state-of-the-art video surveillance system at his funeral home.

He recalls when a visitor to a funeral told him that someone in the chapel appeared to have a gun. Hall said he talked to the young man, who eventually took the weapon back to his car.

He cites stories about shootings at funerals in various parts of the country, but there has not been any serious violence at a service he has worked. But, Davis talks about being prepared.

In the planning for some funerals, Davis said he has contacted law enforcement about the possibility of providing more officers — or to be aware of the location of the funeral and the route. In fact, he said, “I talk with the family, I talk to the minister and talk to the police about the possibilities.”

Davis, who has been in the mortician and funeral home business for nearly 40 years, said the seriousness of the threat of deadly violence at a funeral was never an issue until recent years.

“But now thinking of ways to protect the families is sometimes part of what you have to do,” he said.

There may be some people who feel that Davis could be overacting to isolated cases among many thousands of peaceful funerals.

“Some people might think that,” Davis said, “but if you see smoke, there’s a pretty good chance that a fire is there somewhere.”

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.