Grief is genuine at mock funeral to recall those slain over drugs


The caskets were empty.

Ministers prayed and mourners sang as about 40 people circled the coffins yesterday on the parking lot of a defunct pizza parlor in Northeast Baltimore.

They were remembering friends and relatives whom they had buried, loved ones lost to crime and drugs, and they revisited their grief yesterday in the hope that other young people might be spared.

"Maybe [this] will put some sense through people's heads. Maybe they'll think twice before picking up guns and drugs," said William Towles, a passerby

. "A lot of people never go to [drug] funerals. They don't know what it's like."

The folks who held the mock funeral yesterday do. At the end of the somber charade they wrote down the names of people they had known who fell victim to drugs and violence and dropped the names into the open coffins.

The Rev. Gordon Marshall, 41, a Presbyterian minister who helped organize yesterday's event, lost a 20-year-old brother to a drug overdose seven years ago.

All of the people involved with us have lost a loved one or a distant relative or a friend, and all of the pastors have buried someone who has either overdosed or died through drug violence," Mr. Marshall said.

"Nothing could be more symbolic than actually losing someone -- it makes you a victim."

Mr. Marshall said ministers have to get outside their churches and go to the street corners, the bars and the playgrounds.

"The people who need God don't come to church," he said. "That's the reason we were out there."

Charlene Jefferson, 27, of Baltimore said "drugs are overtaking the neighborhoods. A lot of people I know . . . drugs have taken their lives, either by jail or by death. I hope this will work."

Mark Smith, an elder at St. John's Christian Community Church in Baltimore agreed.

"Drugs are a symptom of death," Mr. Smith said. "When you're dealing with something like that, people don't consciously think about the consequences."

The service, was followed by a procession of mourners and an ambulance symbolizing the illness and death caused by drugs and crime.

MA Ministers in black robes headed the march, which began at the

Eastside District Court at Harford Road and North Avenue.

Participants formed lines four abreast and shouted: "God in, drugs out."

The event was sponsored by Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore (CURE), a coalition of 186 city churches.

"We are trying to be a voice of God in the community," said thRev. Marshall Prentice, president of the group.

"From a pastoral perspective, it's a sin problem," Mr. Prentice said. "If we can transform people's lives, then the community will take on a new transformation."

Along the 10-block route, which headed west on North Avenue to Greenmount Avenue, marchers passed a cemetery, a funeral home and the row houses of s poor and working class neighborhoods.

As the mourners went by, residents stepped out of their homes to watch, some of them joining in the singing and chanting.

The procession ended at Old Town Mall, where a second service was held.

"The purpose is to demonstrate that the church community has an answer to the problems in the community," said Doug Wilson, who works with CURE.

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