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A Casket Is a Container Due Respect

May 09, 1998

The York Casket Co., one of the nation's leading death-care providers, sells a solid ash casket with a gloss finish that enables funeral-goers to write with markers on the outside without their words running or smearing. York anticipates the casket will be a "big seller in the inner cities," and is aimed at "the teenage market," according to a York salesman quoted in a national magazine article.

Does this casket have appeal to families of youths killed in gang violence? MARY REESE BOYKIN spoke to area funeral home administrators and a York representative about the viability--and good taste--of marketing such a casket.

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MICHAEL LUCKEY

Operations manager, Harrison-Ross Mortuaries, Los Angeles

A casket is a container that is due respect. We have not bought this write-on casket at any of our three locations, nor have we had it brought in by an outside vendor. If the family of a gang member requested this casket, it is our position to serve and offer whatever the family might want. But this casket would not be our suggestion.

Gang activity is not a normal activity; it's a subculture of its own. But even among many gang members, there is respect for the dignity of the funeral ceremony.

At a funeral, young people need a way to vent their emotions. It is common for them to write a poem or a quotation in our registry. It helps relieve their pain. This casket may be helpful if it were used like a big sympathy card, much like was seen in the memorials to Princess Di. But I could not condone its use for graffiti. We have had instances where gang members have written on a casket during a viewing or have even written graffiti on our hearses.

Funerals of gang members can present special challenges. There has been an occasion where the funeral service was held in a rival gang's neighborhood and a random shooting occurred. We would not want to do anything that escalates the situation that might have contributed to the young person's tragic death, so we would not favor this casket if it were used for writing graffiti.

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RICHARD HEATH

Funeral director, Inglewood Mortuary

We have provided services for more than a dozen gang-related deaths during the past year, half split between African Americans and Latinos. The write-on casket is too disrespectful. While the casket is creative, it just reinforces graffiti and the lifestyle that brought about these tragic deaths.

But we will offer anything that the public requests. If a family requested this casket, I would counsel them about whether they thought it was wise. I love doing funerals and making money, but I hate burying children who should have never died. What I have found is that the parents of gang members seek a traditional funeral: a calm, safe funeral. So do their homies.

This casket is an unusual alternative, quite unconventional. I think 99% of the public is not ready for scribbling on a casket. But our job as funeral directors is to provide even the most unusual family wish.

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BLANCHE McCONNELL

General manager, Angelus Funeral Home

At the present time, this casket is not in our showroom. We have not considered putting it on the floor. Of course, if it were requested by a family, we would not hesitate to order it. I imagine the casket has appeal to younger people, gang members among them.

I don't think the intended use of the write-on casket was for gang signs. But I can see it misused for that. At some funerals of gang members, young people pay tribute by placing money, photos or a can of beer inside the casket. A problem that this casket might present is that rival gang members might put their inscription on it.

What families of gang members request at Angelus is a traditional service: music, scripture, prayer, a eulogy. It hurts me to see our young people die tragically. If this casket is requested, I would not hesitate to make it available.

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