February 6, 2013
Norman Dumone "Mone" Stokes wasn't the perfect poster child for victims of violence in Chicago.
Stokes wasn't an innocent. Far from it. Police said he was a Gangster Disciple. But there were people who loved him, children and parents and friends, and they wept at his grave with the snow falling Tuesday.
About 10 days ago, he was shot in a dice game on the South Side, one of more than 40 homicide victims during Chicago's bloody January.
Because he wasn't that perfect victim, there were no politicians eager to make the big speech at St. Andrews Temple on Marquette Road, or later at the graveside at Mount Hope Cemetery.
So there was no reason to turn him into a symbol for political policies and political agendas. The dozens of young men in mourning at the funeral weren't big speechmakers. They wore stony faces under the straight brims of their baseball caps. They stood on the steps of that church on the edge of Englewood and stared hard at the cops who were in the street, providing security, staring right back at them.
The only big speech was made by a gravedigger at Mount Hope after all the mourners had walked back to their cars in the snow.
The gravedigger told me to call him Mississippi. His partner was named Raul.
"They never learn," said Mississippi as he turned a crank and set the gears to grinding. "I see all these young men up in here. And I try to tell them. And then I see them again up here."
He didn't mean up here with the living, he meant "down there" in that hole, with the snow on the flowers and the baseball caps and the other mementos dropped on the coffin by mourners, as Mississippi cranked Stokes down into his grave.
Earlier, at the church, I spoke to Stokes' cousin, Dwayne Crawford.
"It's gotta end," said Crawford. "It's my cousin they've got in that box out here."
What do you tell these kids with the angry faces?
"End it," Crawford said. "Put the guns down, y'all. Put the guns down. There ain't going to be no future with it."
Stokes had many aliases. Rashon Stokes was one. Steven D. Brown was another. In 1994, he was convicted of attempted murder, armed robbery and home invasion and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Authorities said that Stokes, armed with a five-shot, nickel-plated revolver — gangsters don't use assault rifles — shot Derrick Williams in the head during a robbery. Williams survived, and the bullet was surgically removed from his head. Stokes' lawyers argued that the judge had made disparaging remarks before the jury, and the Illinois Appellate Court ordered a new trial. Stokes was again convicted and sentenced to 11 years.
But he had luck, too, with several acquittals, from aggravated battery of a police officer to being a felon in possession of a firearm. His luck ran out on the night of Jan. 26 during a dice game in an abandoned building at 70th and Carpenter streets.
"It could have been something wrong in the game, or it could have been an old vendetta," said family friend Bernard Gibson, who said he had known Stokes since he was an infant. "Who knows what it was?"
Gibson is an older man, neat in browns and grays, on the edge of natty, with a trimmed white beard and immaculate shoes. I asked him about the politicians who make the big speeches, including President Barack Obama. A few weeks back I'd called on Obama to come to funerals like this one.
"Obama himself can't stop nothing," Gibson said. "Obama comes in and makes a speech and everything stops? No. All this killing and whatnot has to stop at home, it starts at home. He's only the president. He can't make people love each other and value life. All that extra stuff is nothing, just words. It's just kids raising kids out here. And then they belong to the streets."
The funeral procession of more than 100 cars snaked south on Ashland Avenue. Police and sheriff's deputies provided an escort. They pulled over one car of mourners and made the men stand with their hands on the hood of their dark SUV as blue police lights flashed.
At the graveside there were songs and prayers, about the sea giving up its dead and ashes to ashes. Women began to weep, raising their faces to cry, snow in their hair.
One of the stony-faced young men, a Stokes nephew, took off his cap and placed it on the coffin. Then he walked about 100 feet and stood alone.
He began to wail. It sounded like it started in his gut and broke hard against the back of his throat on the way out, a long scream of "AAAAAAAH! AAAAAAH!" It continued as the prayers were said, ending only when the mourners walked back to their cars.
All that remained were the gravediggers.
"I've got the slab to put down, and then two tons of dirt and we'll be done," said Mississippi.
He pulled on a pair of work gloves. And then he began cranking that coffin down.
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