By Chinta Strausberg
Setting out to accomplish what he promised, Father Michael L. Pfleger and about 3,000 supporters Saturday shutdown the Dan Ryan Expressway but not without confrontation with the Rauner administration.
Interviewed at the end of the march at the Dan Ryan 67th Street exit, an exhausted Pfleger bristled when told that Governor Bruce Rauner called the Peace March “chaos.”
“Governor Rauner tried to make it chaos,” Pfleger shot back. “He tried to be an obstructionist. First of all he lied this morning and said we had made an agreement. There was no damn agreement with anybody.
“His director called me yesterday and said they would put us on the side of the road, and I told him that was not acceptable. We were shutting down the Dan Ryan,” Pfleger told reporters. “He said Rauner’s director promised to call him back but never did.
And, when Rauner put out a press release this morning claiming that Pfleger made an agreement to walk on the side of the road in the first lane, Pfleger said, “That’s a lie. No agreement was ever made.”
Pfleger and his supporters, including Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Rep. Danny K. Danny (D-7th), Senator Heather Stearns (D-7th), Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3rd), Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza, Rev. Walter “Slim” Coleman, Pastor Chris Harris, Pastor David Swanson, SEIU Vice President Jaquie Algee, thousands of youth and union workers, stood their ground, but state police temporarily blocked them from marching.
The youth led the march followed by pastors then elected officials. Pfleger said to those who were upset with their closing down the Dan Ryan, “We are sorry, but the children are dying.” However, after they got three blocks towards the 12-block walk, they ran into problems with the state police who had threatened to arrest them if they entered the expressway.
A few days ago, the mayor endorsed the march, and Saturday, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who had previously asked Pfleger not to hold the demonstration, linked hands with Pfleger and Jackson along the march route, but Rauner was intent on arresting them.
“They (the state police on orders from Rauner), tried to stop us,” said Pfleger. “We were negotiating with them. They were not negotiating, and Superintendent Johnson stepped up, even though he had no jurisdiction over the highways, and said this was a safety issue to the people.” That is, to have the crowd move to one lane to allow cars to pass.
Pfleger made it clear to the state police that he came to shutdown the Dan Ryan and there would be no compromising over that. “We made it clear that we were not going home until we shut it down. We gave them three-weeks notice of what we were doing. Figure it out,” quipped Pfleger as perspiration glistened on his face.
Explaining why they were in a wait mode at 76thand the Dan Ryan for nearly a half-hour, Pfleger said at first they were waiting until the state police got back to them and they came back and said they could do nothing.
“Superintendent Johnson stepped up in a major way,” said Pfleger. “He became the mediator and we appreciate it greatly. We made it clear that we came here to do one thing to shut it down, but today was to get their attention and hopefully, we did.”
“Today was the attention getter but now comes the action to follow up,” he said. Pfleger wants the youth leaders to meet with the governor, mayor and those running for those offices to “tell us what they are going to do to equal the playing field on the South and West Sides of Chicago like the North Side.”
Father Pfleger announced he is holding a young leader’s panel 11:15 a.m., Sunday, July 8, at Saint Sabina, 1210 W. 78thPlace, including Trevon Bosley, Diego Garcia, Rie’onna Holmon, Anthony Lovelace and D’Angelo McDade, to talk about the march and what are the next steps. Pfleger will moderate that discussion.
Peering through the steel bars atop the 76thStreet overpass was a crowd of people who first saw the police on bicycles blocking the 67thStreet Dan Ran ramp exit then cheering the marchers on.
One of the first marchers arriving at the 67thStreet ramp was Kssiey Madison, 18, a freshman at the Indiana State University majoring in communications said, “We need them to listen.
“That is why we shut the whole Dan Ryan down because they need to know we’re serious and that we can come together and make a change,” said Madison. Others came off preaching through a bullhorn and flashing victory signs.
Earlier as he waited in the holding area at 79thand the Dan Ryan, Jackson told this reporter, “This is our Texas borderline. We are the border between the South and the West Side. One side is parched earth, unemployment and on the other side [North Side] it is green and growth.
“We’re demanding equal access and opportunities behind our walls, where schools are closing, jails being built, police headquarters being built, hospitals closing, Jackson said. “On the North Side unemployment is two percent…on the South Side it’s 20 percent unemployment. We demand equality under the law.”
Many of the marchers like Senator Hunter were there remembering their loved ones who were victims of gun violence. Saturday was the birthday of one of her nephews who was killed several years ago on July 4th. In fact, both nephews were shot at the same time.
Ironically, the pair had moved from Chicago to Missouri to get away from the violence. Hunter said they got good jobs, bought cars and had good housing, but they wanted to come visit their family for the Fourth of July. That proved to be a fatal mistake.
Hunter tried to discourage her nephews, John and Willie Hunter, who were 25 and 31-years-old, from coming to Chicago to no avail.
Her nephews dropped off one of their friends but “another guy who had gotten beaten up at a party earlier was there waiting for them. He shot and killed them. It was one of their friends who did it,” Hunter said. The shooting was caught on video resulting in two consecutive life sentences for the shooter who was only 19-years-old. It was such a waste,” Sen. Hunter said.
Saying there have been so many “racial inequities in this city for such a long time, Hunter said, “We’ve been waiting for the mayor, the governor, elected officials, such as myself, and other community leaders to address some of the issues here in the community and it hasn’t happen. It’s time to take it to the streets to show our concern, unity and love for our people,” Hunter said.
Many of the marchers carried pictures of their loved ones like Anthanette Marshbanks. She carried a photo of her son, Archie Lee Chambers, Jr., 20, killed April 21, 2012 in Calumet by a Calumet policeman. “His case is closed. The police officer had no conviction and I was served injustice. Where is justice when you’re killed by policeman?”
Another mother, Sonia Davis, whose son, Tyrone White, 41, was, killed in Chatham said, “His case is still unsolved. I call the police. They never call me back. It’s like my son doesn’t exist. I am grateful to Father Pfleger for doing things like this so people can see that we are parents out here suffering. We need help with our kids cases.”
Rep. Davis was impressed with the march saying it may be “the greatest thing of the century. I think people are responding to their sense of pain, their sense of frustration and they want to start right now to make sure people see them, know them and hear them. I hope this is a lead into the election in November and that we see the greatest turnout we’ve ever seen.”
Isabelle Glass, a member of Saint Sabina, said, “They tried to use scare tactics that we would be arrested. I think God wants us here….”
Adeline Bracey, an organizer with Action Now, said, “We go to the polls and elect these officials and they don’t do anything. They look out the window and see the same thing I see especially in the black and brown community. They have so many murders, senseless killing that go unsolved, but if any other race has a murder, they would turn the city upside down until they find someone. They’ll arrest anyone while our murders go unsolved.”
Nancy Goodman, from Northbrook, came to support Pfleger as did her husband, Lee Goodman. “There is a problem in the city and the country and everybody ought to be a part of the solution.”
Using a bullhorn, Pfleger reminded the marchers that this is a non-violent civil disobedience. “It’s a peace march,” he told them. “There are no aggressive actions taken by us. If somebody else takes aggressive actions, that’s on them and we’ll have them arrested….”
The diverse marchers came from Chicago and the north suburbs including Evanston, Naperville, and Oak Brook. They came carrying signs like, “Black Lives Matter,” and “Commonsense Gun Laws.” Alena Lastrow, 13, who lives in Oak Park said, “It is important for everyone to feel safe in their communities. This is a pretty important protest.
(Photos by Chinta Strausberg)