Baltimore: Peace, unity and gunshots

bullet holes in glassAnyone who knows anything about Baltimore -- whether through news or through entertainment -- knows that our inner-city neighborhoods are plagued by violence, with young, African-American males almost always on both sides of the guns. This is not a new story, yet it remains a news story. The violence still has a way of landing on A1 in the Baltimore Sun. The latest variation on this hellish theme? A gunfight that interrupted the funeral service of another young man killed by violence -- in a triple shooting, no less -- while the minister was trying to preach a sermon about unity and peace.

Things were already rowdy inside the crowded Unity United Methodist Church before the gunfire -- eight shots in all -- began outside. The new toll: One dead, one critically wounded.

Many of the mourners were active "in the drug life," according to the minister, and the funeral was for Anthony Lamont Izzard Sr., 26, the youngest of 13 children, with two children of his own and a fiancee. Sun reporter Gadi Dechter noted that he was known in the neighborhood as "King Losta" and "Poppie" and that, according to court records, he had been convicted of several drug dealing charges.

"It is safe to say that the funeral brought this activity, but to what extent we don't know," said Agent Donny Moses, a police spokesman. Authorities had not identified any suspects last night. "At this point, we're not sure we have any witnesses," he said. "Everybody was inside the church, or so they say."...

After securing the area, authorities allowed Izzard's body to be transported to Mount Zion Cemetery in Lansdowne. Only about 50 mourners attended the burial, which Rush said he hurried through because he didn't feel safe. He has been a minister for 26 years and has presided over many funerals for victims of urban violence. "But this is the first one I ever did where a shooting actually took place at the service," Rush said.

And there is the theme that jolts the story, the ghost that leaps out of this well-written, but sadly familiar story. The pastor is now having to rethink whether or not he can continue to do funerals -- of this sort. Will he have to do research on the deceased -- street research -- in order to find out whether it is safe to host a funeral?

Make sure you read to the end. The religion angle is powerful at the end of this well-written hard news story. Still, I wonder if this is a case where the reporter truly buried -- there is no other word that will do -- the lede:

Rush said he had known Izzard since he was a baby. Izzard's father died 11 months ago of cancer, the minister said, and his mother was "kind of out of it" with grief. Rush said Izzard's violent death and criminal history led him to preach a message of peace yesterday. "My thing was that we have to learn to come together as one, as a people, and stop the violence," he said. "We need to bring some unity toward ourselves."

It is a theme he has been plying for years, at similar funerals, but after yesterday's violence, Rush said he would think twice before accepting another such assignment.

On the exterior of Unity United hangs a banner: "Put down the guns. Love or perish."

It's a small thing to note that this reference should have been "Unity Church" or "Unity United Methodist." The painful irony would have remained, in either case.

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