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West Side pastors band together for new effort against gun violence

Crusader Staff Report

Pastors from 20 churches on Chicago’s West Side on Sunday, August 8, formed a social justice group to address escalating gun violence across the city.

The Leaders Network Chicago held first responders training that included more than 50 participants. The training was conducted by the founders of the group, Dr. Marshall Hatch Sr., Pastor Cy Fields, and Pastor Ira Acree, men who have been on the front line advocating for many civil and human rights issues since the group’s inception in 2005.

The goals of the training include boosting faith participation in solutions to community violence and reducing, through peaceful mediation, incidents of violent retaliation due to violence victimization.

“We’re equipping churches on how to actively respond to violence in their community. The police can’t do it alone and politicians can’t fix what’s broken. There are enough churches in every neighborhood to help bring peace and support to struggling families. If all of us do more, Chicago can be a safer place to live sooner rather than later,” stated Pastor Cy Fields.

Hatch said, “The challenges in our community require all hands on deck, and our efforts to train congregants as spiritual first responders and peace activists take our ministries beyond the four walls.”

The same pastors held a press conference last month after the deadliest and most violent weekend this year in Chicago.

Over 100 people were shot over the long Fourth of July weekend, 19 of them killed. Among those shot were Police Commander Patrina Wines, who was injured when a man fired bullets into a crowd of revelers.

The violence prompted the pastors to act urgently to address the crime problem.

“I truly believe that every institution has to take ownership of this undeclared state of emergency that engulfs our city, and do something,” stated Acree. “If this training catches fire among religious leaders, it has the potential to help radically improve police and community relations and make witnesses more comfortable sharing information with police.’’

The gun violence last weekend injured 79 people and killed 11, including 29- year-old Officer Ella French, who died in the early hours of Sunday, August 8. She and a fellow officer were shot after they approached a vehicle during a traffic stop at 63rd and Bell in the Chicago Lawn, community late Saturday night.

French died at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The other officer remains in critical condition.

The three suspects were later caught. Two of the suspects, brothers Emonte Morgan, 21, and Eric Morgan, face several felony charges.

French and her partner had pulled over the car the brothers were driving because it had expired plates, Police Superintendent David Brown said. Police said the officers struggled with Emonte Morgan near the trunk of the car and toward the front passenger seat of the car.

Emonte Morgan was charged with first-degree murder of a peace officer, two counts of attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Eric Morgan was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and obstruction of justice, the State’s Attorney’s Office said.

A third person had been taken into custody Sunday. On Monday, August 9, Jamel Danzy, 29 of Indiana, was slapped with federal charges after he was accused of being a straw purchaser of the handgun used in the shooting.

Chicago Police Superintendent Brown said at a news conference Monday evening that French’s partner was “incrementally improving.”

After Officer French’s death, Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared Sunday an official day of mourning. Purple bunting draped the entrance of police headquarters at 35th and Michigan. A cluster of balloons was tied to a tree at the site where French was fatally shot.

The mayor also ordered city buildings to fly flags at half-staff and called upon all other private buildings to do the same.

Lightfoot then released a statement, saying “tragedy has stuck, again. We mourn the loss of a young officer, and as I did privately in the early morning hours, I want to publicly offer condolences to her mother, her brother, family and friends. There are some who say we do not do enough for the police and that we are handcuffing them from doing their jobs. There are others who say we do too much for the police and that we never hold them accountable for what they do, particularly in Black and brown neighborhoods.”

Those words were not enough to quell anger among police officers, many of whom reportedly turned their backs to the mayor as she entered the University of Chicago Medical Center’s seventh floor to check on the injured officer, whose name has not been released.

In his press conference, Superintendent Brown said police officers “feel alone, they feel unsupported, they feel like no one appreciates the work they do. They’re human so they have a lot of expressions of discouragement, and I would just ask the people of Chicago to support their police officers with kind words of support.”

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