Hatred on public display



Among newspaper photographers, covering funerals ranks high on the list of least-favorite assignments. Invariably, they say they would rather be somewhere else. At the heart of this discomfort are family feelings. Some want coverage - to affirm the importance of their loved one's life and see what was lost. Others want their privacy. Each situation is different. All are difficult.

When Westminster native Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder was killed in Iraq, his family did not permit media on the church grounds for his funeral. From the road, I photographed members of the Patriot Guard Riders, motorcyclists who came to honor the Marine.

As I was leaving, I saw the small, organized demonstration by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which has made a name for itself by picketing more than 100 military funerals around the country, railing against gays and stating how they "know" God is punishing the United States.

Rarely is bigotry and hatred so overtly visible. A newspaper columnist from Pennsylvania kept saying, "Unbelievable." A wire service photographer asked, "Have you ever seen anything this sick in your life?" Later, a co-worker was incensed that I would photograph the demonstrators.

This photo did not run the day after the funeral. I had mixed feelings about that. I did not want to add to the Snyder family's sorrow, but I thought our readers should see it and draw their own conclusions.

Seeing this 13-year-old holding this sign made me think of a Ku Klux Klan rally I covered many years ago in Western Maryland. I still remember a 5-year-old boy dressed in sheets. He'd be in his 30s now. I wonder if he still wears sheets. Perhaps he is fighting radical fundamentalists in a country far, far away. Perhaps he has children of his own.


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