By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Doves meant to symbolize Devon’s soul were released to applause from the crowd. Then De’Andre and the other pallbearers wheeled Devon’s white coffin to a fortresslike mausoleum. The mausoleum was long and narrow; crypts were stacked seven high. The crowd gathered behind a white teddy bear perched to look up to a crypt two from the top.
Two Mexican gravediggers slid the coffin onto a hydraulic lift. The men were visibly nervous. No doubt, they knew this was a gang funeral, and that among the big, emotional crowd were a number of hardcore gangbangers.
As the coffin rose above the crowd, the jittery gravediggers made a fateful mistake. As they pushed the front of the coffin into the crypt, they fumbled the lift’s controls. The rear of the coffin kept rising, until it teetered, tilting sharply down, wedging hard against the marble. There was the terrible sound of groaning wood, then a loud crack. The crowd gasped, confused. Quickly, the gravediggers leveled the coffin and shoved it the rest of the way in. But Theresa Perry exploded in grief. Someone in the crowd called out in anger. The funeral director stepped forward with her clipboard, promising Theresa that all was well with her son. To prove it, she offered to bring the coffin back down. The gravediggers hesitated, exchanged frightened looks, and then did as they were told. But when the coffin arrived, all was not well. The top of the coffin had partially collapsed. The flowers had been stripped off. It was a mess.
There was a beat of shocked silence. The gravediggers began backing away .?.?. then, bedlam.
Theresa let out a shriek and took a swing at the funeral director, striking her in the face. The director collapsed; I lost sight of her as Theresa kept pummeling. De’Andre Perry and two or three of the other pallbearers pounced on the gravediggers, punching wildly. At one point, the gravediggers managed to scramble to their feet, but they were easily caught and trapped against the marble crypts. They disappeared from view in a hail of fists and feet.
The mausoleum filled with screams. This crowd was all too familiar with the physics of violence and its accelerants. In their world, fistfights often become gunfights. Many, I’m sure, thought that there were probably plenty of weapons on hand, and knew that gunfire in that narrow marble space would create a lethal ricochet. The crowd stampeded. Chairs flipped. Women and children went down. The last I saw of the gravediggers, they were awash in blood, being mercilessly beaten.
The melee poured outside. Scuffles broke out among the men, some of the fights dissolving into emotional embraces. Women, dressed in their Sunday best, were running for cars in the bright sunshine.
A few minutes later, De’Andre and the other pallbearers emerged, their clothes disheveled. Theresa charged at them. “You killed my baby!” she screamed, railing at the pointless nihilism of gang life. “You killed him!”
The young men stumbled back, retreating from their aunt’s wrath. The air began to pulse. Everyone looked up. An LAPD helicopter had swooped in and was hovering overhead. Toward the cemetery entrance, LAPD officers were massing, snapping on riot helmets and checking shotguns. They opened the gates, formed a phalanx six across, and started walking calmly and steadily toward the mourners.
The young men in the crowd fled on foot through and over the tombstones, abandoning cars and women and sprinting for the walls. With military precision, the police cleared every crypt and every conceivable hiding space. By the time they reached the mausoleum there was no one left to arrest, and not much to do except stand around bewildered at this strange scene.
Then the damaged coffin came out on a gurney. The pastor and a limousine driver wheeled it back to the hearse. The police lowered their weapons; some took off their helmets, sweating heavily in the heat. Theresa turned to them; her face was a mask of rage and despair. She seemed about to scream again and then just dropped her head. The pastor whispered something into her ear, and gently coaxed her into the limousine. Then he put Devon’s coffin back in the hearse and drove the body away.?
A few weeks before his cousin’s funeral, I had met up with De’Andre Perry, known as Little D among his fellow Bounty Hunters. We stood in the entrance to the recreation center in front of the infamous memorial listing those killed in gang violence over the past few years. I asked Perry for the same thing I’d asked other gangbangers caught up in this deadly vendetta — an explanation.
Eventually, like all gangbangers I spoke with, he circled back to gang lore, which defines the gang as a family defending neighborhood pride. “I was born into it,” Perry said. “Doing drug dealing or gangbanging, I was always that in my eyes. The Bounty Hunters are a powerful community wherever we go. Wherever we move you see our prints. Everywhere you go if you ask anybody about Bounty Hunters they have something strong to say.”