OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ Friends cheered and snapped pictures Friday as convicted drug kingpin Felix Mitchell was carried in an ornate bronze casket to his funeral in an eight- mile procession of limousines and Rolls-Royces.
The casket was carried by a horse-drawn carriage driven by a man in top hat and tails. Tuxedoed ushers and relatives and friends dressed in red and black took photographs of the final tribute to a man police say was responsible for turning thousands of Oakland residents into drug addicts.
As flashy in life as he was in death, Mitchell, who grew up in Oakland housing projects, amassed a fortune as leader of the ″69 Mob″ and was given to fancy cars and gold jewelry.
The 32-year-old drug czar was stabbed 10 times in the chest last week at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas, where he was serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for conspiracy to sell heroin and operating a continuing criminal enterprise.
About 1,800 people packed Star Bethel Baptist Church for the funeral service, which featured live and taped gospel and popular music. ″Smooth Operator,″ by Sade, played as mourners filed past the coffin.
The church was decorated with more than two dozen wreaths and flower arrangements, including one of white flowers decorated with a black paper cat and the word ″Felix″ in red blooms.
His family scheduled the funeral parade, which passed through neighborhoods Mitchell’s gang once claimed as turf, despite the complaints of city officials and leaders who said the event glorified someone better forgotten.
″I think it’s wrong,″ said Daniel Gonzalez of Oakland, whose grandmother lives across the street from the yellow wood-frame house that is the Mitchell family’s home. ″It’s going to make the kids think it’s OK to become a drug dealer. They’re making him out to be a king.
″But people respect money and they’ve got a lot of it, the Mitchells do.″
″It’s a Mafia glorification process,″ said City Council member Wilson Riles. ″There’s nothing the city can do. It’s a continuation of a message put to young people in this city that there is hero situation in drug dealing.″
Council member Leo Bazile called the two-hour procession ″hero worship of a murdering thug.″
Prosecution witnesses at his 1985 trial blamed his gang for at least seven murders, some of which allegedly were ordered by Mitchell.
At the sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Niespolo said the 25- to 30-member gang earned as much as $400,000 a month while creating thousands of heroin addicts, some of whom worked in exchange for drugs.
About 2,000 people had flocked to a church Thursday night to view Mitchell’s body.
On Friday, spectators were two and three deep along one block where the parade began at the Mitchell home. Some were dressed in their finest, while others wore sweatshirts and jeans.
The spectators applauded when the horse-drawn carriage bearing Mitchell’s body arrived at his former home. Ushers and friends chatted and joked outside while they awaited the beginning of the procession back to the Star Bethel Baptist Church, which got under way nearly an hour late.
A friend of Mitchell’s who would not give his name said he had flown from New York for the event.
″I knew him, but I didn’t know what kind of business he was in,″ said the man, who was dressed in dark gray tweed. ″He was pretty warm, gentle. People can have two faces. To me, he was a nice guy. It shocked me to find out he was a drug dealer.″
Others weren’t as kind.
″This is the event of the year,″ said Wanda Jones, who lives down the street from the Mitchell clan. ″But I think it’s bad because it’s saying that it’s OK for the kids. It’s really kind of sad because it’s not OK.″
″This sort of reminds me of Al Capone,″ added Todd Smith of Oakland. ″They see him as some kind of god or king. Oakland does need to change. We are a city of love here.″