The little chapel at Solomon Mortuary in Watts, with its red carpet and fleur-de-lis wall coverings, was sweltering despite the roar of a creaky ceiling air conditioner. Mourners sat pressed together in the heat, their arms wrapped around each other. The funeral service for 19-year-old Deonte Freeman was about to start.
The 100 or so mourners, mostly black, wore dresses, suits and jeans; one or two had memorial T-shirts bearing Deonte's silkscreened picture. Freeman was tall, "Six foot three with a little-kid face," said his mother, Evelyn Coleman. "He acted like a big kid, but he tried to be smooth." He loved street basketball and parties, said friend Forrest Freeman, 18 (no relation). "He never gave anyone trouble," he said.
"He be slippin'," said a young man, using the street term for getting murdered. Freeman had been walking to a job-training center in South-Central Los Angeles mid-morning at the intersection of 41st and Woodlawn Avenue on Monday, March 26. Gang attackers shot him multiple times. Freeman wasn't a gang member, police said--just a likely target. Wrong place, wrong time, they said.
Mourners clutched programs and spoke sparingly. As the service began, many were still moving around, handing each other Kleenex, trying to find spots where they could see.
Screaming sobs drowned the second verse of "Amazing Grace." People shifted, and teared up. Mourners with tight mouths stood with squirming children in their arms. Among them were several young men Deonte's age. One wore a brown suit vest with slacks, another a T-shirt and black baseball cap. They stood motionless, staring forward with stricken gazes. In the small space, the sound of women sobbing echoed around them.
The chaplain bent over the Bible, his white shirt lit up by the tiny electric light on the podium. "The Lord is my shepherd...," he began.
After the chaplain spoke, Freeman's friends and family members stepped up to give testimonials. A young woman in black lost her composure at the microphone, and buried her face in her hands. Her body shook. Other speakers followed. Once or twice, the chaplain, sitting to one side, intervened, trying to restore calm. "It's all right, it's all right," he intoned.
A young boy in a suit and tie told the crowd: "I hope they get the ones who did this to him." He put his hands over his face and strode out, crying, his jacket askew.
"I'm sick and tired of this," said a man, a cousin. Freeman was "not one of those out there making a mess," a woman said. At the close, the minister rose. "I have known this pain before," he said. "The hurt never leaves. But we can bear the scar."
They filed by the open steel-gray casket for a last view of Freeman, a last kiss. They lingered in the parking lot, waiting for the hearse to leave. Some wore gang colors, some not. One of the former, a young man, sat slumped against the wall. He had a slack look on his face and he seemed at the brink of tears. He said he was disgusted with media portrayals of gangs and street violence. "People think this is glorious," he said. "It isn't."