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Sorrow laced with anger at youth's funeral in St. Petersburg

Hands aloft, dozens of mourners crowded around the coffin of Javon "Holly Hood" Dawson and joined in prayer.

It was their response to an elder's hope that they could mine good out of something tragic.

"It could have been any one of our kids today," a mother told those gathered Saturday for Dawson's funeral service.

Dawson, 17, was fatally shot by a police officer June 7 outside a high school graduation party. Police said the teenager was firing a gun in the air and leveled it at the officer. His family and friends dispute that account.

At Saturday's service, nine pews were set aside for the family at All Nations Church of God by Faith.

Teenagers, some wearing T-shirts dedicated to Dawson's memory, made up a large part of the overwhelmingly African-American crowd. A large bouquet of red roses and baby's breath lay atop the coffin. Female ushers in black suits and white gloves handed out fans and programs.

Among those present were Omali Yeshitela, founder of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement.

"Another child," he said to a reporter.

Members of the Nation of Islam also attended the service. One spoke of wanting "to aid in coming up with the truth."

Diop Olugbala, head of the Justice for Javon Dawson Committee and a member of Uhuru, said Dawson's shooting was "an awakening for our community. … We need to get organized."

A church elder cut his speech short, in keeping with the stipulation that reflections be kept to two minutes. A friend of Dawson's drew loud applause for reciting a poem he had written to cope with the death.

But the person who most galvanized the congregation was the eulogist, Bishop Evans Bacon Jr. White towel in hand, Bacon was in full call-and-response mode as he gave a rousing sermon that sought to comfort the family.

"This is a task for Jesus," he said.

"None of us is big enough to handle what needs to be handled. … I believe the Bible said, 'Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.' "

He told the story of his own brother, murdered when someone intentionally gave him an overdose of drugs. Police didn't seem to care, he said.

"Every young black man is not a thug," he said, eliciting a roar of agreement from the crowd, many of whom rose from their seats.

Bacon said his brother's murderer is now in jail.

"Don't tell me God won't take care of it. … Let Jesus handle it," he said directly to the family.

But "don't let them sweep it under the carpet. This is America. This shouldn't be."

Dawson's interment was postponed because of Saturday's rainy weather. The ceremony will be private.

After the service, Moses Williams talked about the friend he had known since childhood. The 16-year-old wore a T-shirt with his friend's picture, bearing the words, "In loving memory of Javon Dawson."

He said this is the second friend he's lost in a matter of weeks.

The other friend? "He got shot, too."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Sorrow laced with anger at youth's funeral in St. Petersburg 06/21/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 26, 2008 4:25pm]
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