Business is disturbingly steady for Spencer Leak, Sr.
It’s not that he is unaccustomed to being busy. After all, he is a successful funeral home director with two locations and his family has been in the funeral business for almost 80 years.
It’s just that many of the people arriving for their “homegoing,” as the services often are called, are so young. Leak said he’s been doing upwards of 125 funerals a year for homicide victims, many of them young adults, some just teenagers, who are victims of the recent surge in violence rocking this city.
“These kids don’t expect to live a full life,” said Leak, a former executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections. “You get about a thousand other kids who come to these funerals. They see how it’s celebrated and they think this is how I’ll be celebrated when I get shot.”
Chicago’s police commissioner has pointed to gang-related conflicts as the driving force behind the recent surge in gun deaths. From the start of this year through June 18, at least 240 people have been killed, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Homicides are up about 35 percent over last year at a time when violent crime nationwide is trending down. U.S. violent crime rates fell in 2011 for the fifth straight year, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data.
“It’s a sad indictment on us,” said Leak. “The spike in crime we’re seeing now is not something that’s surprising to me. I’m talking to at least two-to-three mothers a week whose kids were killed in the streets of Chicago, and I’m just one funeral director.”
Leak believes the solution to reducing the incidence of murder is multifaceted, adding that police are doing all they can. But he cites a lack of religious upbringing among many of today’s young black men as a major factor in the plague of violence.