Anti-Drug Crusader’s Funeral Brings Tears And Cries Of Protest
MIAMI (AP) _ To the beat of gospel music and cries of protest and anguish, a crime- ridden community turned out Saturday to pay last respects to a slain anti- drug crusader whose death has focused attention on south Florida’s drug wars.
″Why? Why?″ cried Lee Arthur Lawrence’s wife, Sarah, during funeral services inside the tiny Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Perrine, about 10 miles south of Miami. She was joined by more than 400 mourners, including President Bush’s son Jeb, only blocks from the grocery store where Lawrence was gunned down Monday.
″You can shoot Lee Arthur Lawrence but you can’t kill all the Christians,″ said Rev. Walter Richardson, one of about a dozen local clergy members at the funeral. ″Good will always rise.″
Lawrence, 51, who owned the store, had fought for years to keep drug dealers off his property and out of his community. He was killed in a fusillade of up to 30 bullets fired from a semiautomatic weapon when he went out to pick up garbage from his parking lot.
Authorities believe Lawrence was killed by professional killers. His family is convinced that drug dealers are responsible.
The slaying has been cited by many police and community leaders as a symbol that drug-related crime has gotten out of hand in south Florida. The Rev. J.A. Fergenson told mourners that Lawrence’s death ″is an indictment against the whole community. You are in a warfare.″
Jeb Bush presented Mrs. Lawrence and her two children, Nita, 28, and Lee Arthur Jr., 22, with a letter from the president and Barbara Bush.
″Lee Arthur has been on the front line of the drug war that threatens us all,″ the letter said. ″It’s a problem for all of us, all of Dade County, the state and the country.″
The three-hour funeral, which was viewed on television monitors by nearly 300 people packed in an adjacent church building, was highlighted by calls to halt drug trafficking and violence.
Lawrence’s black casket was carried into the sparsely furnished church by seven officers of the Metro-Dade Police department, which so far has made no arrests in the slaying.
The week before he was shot, Lawrence had filed a complaint with police about the latest in a series of death threats.
Metro-Dade Police Director Fred Taylor, who met with Lawrence and other community leaders three days before the slaying, said it was impossible to offer around-the-clock protection for Lawrence. Police on Friday assured Perrine residents that regular patrols will continue in the neighorhood.
During the funeral, the Rev. Carlton Coleman drew applause from the congregation when he leaped from his pew and read a statement criticizing police and suggesting Lawrence was ignored because he was black.
″It he was a white man, this might not have happened,″ he said.
Several people in the congregation collapsed, either from grief or from temperatures in 90s, and at least one man was carried sobbing into a room behind the choir.
Police are investigating reports that two men in military camouflage clothes were lurking around Lee’s Grocery before the shooting. Metro-Dade homicide Sgt. Ted MacArthur said detectives are probing links between the Lawrence shooting and the murder of a reputed drug dealer in Perrine earlier this month.
Ed Hanna, of the West Perrine Community Develpment Corp., recounted a recent conversation with Lawrence, who would have celebrated his 52nd birthday this Saturday.
″He said to me, ’I am only one, but I am at least one. I can’t do everything, but at least I can do something,‴ Hanna told the congregation.
″To move, a turtle needs to stick his neck out,″ said local businessman Collos Coleman. ″Lee Arthur stuck his neck out.″