After a record 143 killings in 2017, a funeral home director in Columbus, Ohio has taken a unique approach at deterring Black-on-Black crime in the city.
The latest advertisement for Marlan J. Gary Funeral home went up about two weeks ago to cover two large billboards, sparking a much-needed discussion about the city’s recent spike in violence in the past year, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Of the 143 victims killed last year, 111 were Black and all but 10 of them were male. Their median age was 29.
Less than half of the cases remain unsolved, but Gary said he has an inkling most of these young Black men were killed by other young Black men. So, he felt the need to address it.
“Black Lives SHOULD Matter, Especially to BLACK PEOPLE,” his billboards read. “STOP THE VIOLENCE. We don’t want your business That bad.”
Columbus experienced a horrid year of homicidal violence in 2017 that managed to outpace the city’s previous record of 139 homicides in 1991, according to the paper. Gary, a full-on supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said he’s handled the funeral arrangements for more homicide victims than he can count, and that number has only continued to grow.
Nine people have already been killed in Columbus this year. Eight of them were African-American.
” … The bottom line is that I don’t bury a whole lot of people who were killed by police,” Gary said. “Right now, I am burying a lot of Black people who are killed at the hands of Black people.”
“I realize that [Black lives] have to matter to us before it matters to anybody else,” he added.
So far, the funeral home director said his billboards have received a positive response. That hasn’t always been the case, however.
Gary has advertised his business for years, sometimes altering the wording to reflect special holidays or occasions like Black History Month, according to the Columbus Dispatch. However, he drew the ire of Columbus police when his billboards began co-opting the language of the BLM movement. Some offered advice to young Blacks, like “cooperate, don’t run,” while others scolded trigger-happy cops, saying “I deserve a day in court, not in a casket”.
“When you fight fire with fire, all you get is a bigger fire,” said Fralisia Jefferson, who’s pictured beside Gary in his latest billboard. Jefferson lost her 27-year-old godbrother to gun violence just last year
“We’re getting to a dangerous point,” she said.
These issues are equally important to Gary, who has a son turning 18 soon. The funeral home director said he hopes the billboards will continue the conversation around violence and eventually lead to a record low for homicides in the city.
“I just thought it would be great if we could try to beat that record,” he told the newspaper. “It would be nice if we could just move back toward the record low.”