Monday, July 13, 2009

The Supremes and the Disturbed

As I type, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is appearing before the US Senate as she continues the arduous process of confirmation for the US Supreme Court. I look forward to seeing what comes out in her (well rehearsed) answers, and to learning more about her. Do I think she should be confirmed? I don't know yet, though I do find her ruling on the Hartford, CT firefighters, now overturned by SCOTUS, disturbing. Is that her MO, or was it a fluke? Those are the kinds of questions that I think she needs to answer. That being said, everyone and their mother is saying she's going to be confirmed anyway, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the hearings. Anyhoo, I guess some of the questions will be answered, others maybe not so much, during the course of the hearings, so we'll see if there are any surprises.

And while this is going on, there has been something else going on in Obama's hometown, Chicago. Maybe it was because I was on vacation last week, but I had not heard anything about this until Disturbed mentioned it at No Quarter in my "For Some Peaceful Reflection" post. And that is the grave robbing going on in the Burr Oak Cemetery. This is an African American cemetery, and as I understand it, seven thousand families have now filed reports. It is a tragic story, one best told by my favorite Chicago writer, John Kass. He does so poignantly in this article, "The Dead Don't Deserve This; Nor Do The Living":
The disinterred bodies were in weedy mounds a short bus ride away, lumpy in the dirt, in a back section near the fence at Burr Oak Cemetery.

There were broken caskets and concrete grave liners in the mounds, too, and detectives said that when the grave robbers got tired or sloppy they just dumped the bodies on the ground.

So there were human teeth and leg bones, hips and finger bones scattered out there in the weeds.

Charles Taylor didn't want to see them and neither did I.

"What kind of person does this? I'll tell you," said Taylor, a retired child-welfare worker, one of the anguished people in the cemetery on Thursday, each desperate to learn if the graves of their dead were among those that had been pillaged by the grave robbers.

"It's the kind of person who breaks into a church and steals the cross of gold and sells it. And people ask, 'Who could do something like that?' But they know.

"A thief breaks into the church. A thief pulls bodies out of the graves for cash money and dumps them in a pile. That's what we have here. Thieves of bodies."

This is just beyond sad. The disrespect, of both the living and the dead, and all for money:
Those bodies once belonged to the dead. But the grave robbers stole more than that. They stole peace from the dead and from the living and they stole dignity and memory. They plunged every survivor in that cemetery on Thursday into despair.

There were hundreds and hundreds of people, all of them African-Americans, at the cemetery that predates the end of segregation. Each one was heartbroken. Some were guilty about not having visited their family plots sooner. Others were people, women mostly, who visited the graves at least once a month, with flowers and tiny pinwheels and watering cans.

Yet whether they provided constant vigil or offered just a thought from a distance, every one had been violated.

"I came here to visit my grandmother's grave a couple months ago, and it didn't look right, it looked like there was fresh dug dirt next to it," said Precious Hicks, 21. "And the cemetery people wanted me to leave. You know what they told me? They said it was wild coyotes."

Oh, my. So lies on top of theft, while looking these people in the face. That takes a helluva lot of nerve, to put it mildly. Kass continues:
Surely you haven't missed the story. Up to 300 bodies, and perhaps even more, were torn out of their graves, allegedly by a gang of gravediggers and a cemetery official. The open graves were resold for cash, and the bodies that had been in those graves were dumped onto those terrible mounds.

The cemetery boss is suspected of taking the cash and driving out to the gambling boats, and the gravediggers received overtime for plucking bodies from graves, sources familiar with the investigation said. It worked like this for years.

Sometimes they just pushed the new ones on top of the old.

"They smashed the old ones down," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office and investigators broke the case. The investigation is being run by the head of the financial crimes and public corruption unit, Jack Steed.

"This is sickening," Dart told me. "All the people here, you look into their eyes, and you see pain."

My heart just breaks for these families, who have endured so much at the hands of a few, at the hands of those who had been entrusted to care for their loved ones in death. Those who abused that trust from their own greed. These families, alive and dead, do not deserve this. One can only hope the grave robbers get their comeuppance:
Later, Dart and Cook County State's Atty. Anita Alvarez held a news conference off to the side, and Dart explained the scheme, while Alvarez explained the charges.

The FBI brought in a forensics team, some of whom had worked sifting through the mass graves in the Balkans, and it will take months to sort it out, and match bone to bone.

With Alvarez and Dart there, I thought I might see another prominent politico with 19th Ward Democratic organization connections: Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes.

A few years ago Hynes campaigned on cemetery rip-offs and made news splash after news splash about abuses in what he calls the "death care industry." He vowed to fight them. His Web page is full of such vows.

Though Hynes' office is responsible for the oversight of privately owned cemeteries like Burr Oak, he wasn't at the news conference. His office said he has oversight but little legal authority to enforce cemetery upkeep.

Perhaps Hynes was busy making plans to get into the U.S. Senate race. Sen. Roland "Tombstone" Burris, who cozied up to disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the Senate appointment, has apparently decided to drop out of politics.

It's too bad Dan Hynes wasn't there.

But Rev. Jesse Jackson was at the news conference. He terrified funeral directors by asking if any of them had ever resold used coffins through Burr Oak.

"There are prominent people buried here," Jackson said, of civil rights martyr Emmett Till, and old Negro League baseball players, and entertainers and champion prizefighters.

"But everybody here is special. And those grave robbers deserve a special place in hell," Jackson said. "How far did this scheme go? That's what we want to know."

As the politicians made speeches, Robert Gardner, 73, a retired steelworker, waited to speak with investigators about his father-in-law, Johnny Marks, buried in 1982.

"This is worse than bad," said Gardner, pointing toward the death mounds out back. "All those people turned out of their graves, left out there. They get no peace. Neither do we." (

"Worse than bad," indeed. Here is a video on this issue, too:


There are more videos and related articles at the link above for Kass' article.

Whatever one believes happens after death, whether the body is just a vessel, or that the soul is still there, this is just horrendous. The grave robbers have shown tremendous callous disregard for these people, for their remains, and for their families. It is heart-breaking, plain and simple. I hope the perps get everything that is coming to them. If they have an ounce of humanity in them (which they have not demonstrated), I hope they have to look each and every living family member in the eye, and apologize to them. Each one. That is the very least they can do. And then I hope they have the book thrown at them. They deserve no less.


Logistics Monster said...

The people involved in the cemetery fiasco should have more than the book thrown at them....and as for Sonja, I have to come down on the side of "I Vote No" because she is a "c" student who will be making decisions that affect our lives and our descendants lives over the course of her SC tenure. It's like putting a stupid person (showdog) in the WH; only problem is that this stupid person is for the rest of her life and will change the course of our history.

If you haven't checked out her actually college records - you will find that she really is not that smart. Does not bode well for us.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, LM -

Isn't it unbelievable that the people at the cemetery have gotten away with this for so long?? Shocking...

WOW - I didn't know that abt Sonia, either, LM. Clarence Thomas isn't the sharpest knife in the block, either, and boy has THAT shown in his decisions. We don't need someone else who is a mental lightweight.

How did she get this far, I'm curious to know?

Thanks for coming by! I have really been enjoying your work - thanks for al you do!

Mary Ellen said...

What a disaster that Burr Ridge Cemetery thing is! I heard that Michelle Obama's father is buried there, but the White House won't discuss if his grave was disturbed, just verified that it's true that he is buried there.

I had no idea about Sonia's grades! Yikes! Another Obama pick that is not the brightest in the bunch. I'm not surprised, though. I have the feeling that Obama's grades aren't much better since he seems afraid to release them. Maybe he can empathize...after all, he's all into empathy these days, when it's convenient for him.

Mary Ellen said...

Regarding my previous statement about MO's dad being buried at Burr Oak Cemetery, they just said on CNN that the White House said Michelle Obama's father is not buried there. Her Press Secretary had previously said he was. I guess her Press secretary should have asked MO first, but that would take a modicum of intelligence, something that doesn't run rampant through our White House these days.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, ME -

I am sure you know far more abt what is going on with the cemetery than I do. I imagine there has been all kinds of coverage in the papers/news there on this.

I had seen the same thing abt MO's dad, too. Uh, yeah, it woulda been good to actually know the FACTS first before spreading the story around. This is my total cynicism coming out, but it seems designed to gin up some sympathy for MO, especially in light of it being a lie. Who knows.

I hear ya abt the whole grades thing. It's either that he was a crappy student, or it says something else abt his residency. One or the other - why else would he keep them buried?

I was out all day, so I don't know what happened in the hearings today. Not sure it is even going to matter, you know? Oh, there's that cynicism again...