By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Father Michael L. Pfleger Tuesday said threats of arrests by the Illinois State Police (ISP) will not deter or intimidate him or his supporters from engaging in “Operation Shutdown” this Saturday. It’s expected that more than 1,000 protesters will takeover the 79th Street Dan Ryan Expressway including busloads from Evanston and Naperville.
Also responding to Illinois State Police director Leo P. Schmitz’s threat to arrest anyone who comes on the Dan Ryan Saturday, July 7, at 10 a.m., was the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., who has been arrested many times during his 50-year civil rights career. “No threats will stop us. No jail cells will contain us,” he told reporters during a press conference Tuesday at Saint Sabina.
“There is a border between Texas and Mexico, a border between Chicago’s South and West Sides and downtown where the money is. We intend to put our bodies and lives on the line this Saturday. No manner of threats will stop us…,” Jackson said.
“Today there are babies being separated behind the red lines…the banks…insurance companies that redline and help create this border…. Out of dedication and sacrifice, we’re going to march this Saturday, stop the traffic from flowing…. We’re not giving up. We must not adjust. We must resist. This is a resistance movement. We want jobs and justice now….”
Last Sunday after worship service, Pfleger warned “This is just step one” of more protests to come until their demands are met. He made it clear why despite death threats he has received via phone calls, e-mails, Facebook, “with the biggest threat from the ISP that this will not deter plans for Operation Shutdown” from happening.
“It’s not about Mike Pfleger. It’s not about just a march. This is not just about interruption of traffic. It is the violence in the city of Chicago,” he said.
Pfleger explained that “The shutdown is to force the city to stop ignoring this violence, the violence of poverty, poor schools, no economic development, lack of affordable housing, no mental health facilities, lack of common sense gun legislation in the state, the shooting of young black men by each other and by law enforcement.
“The civil disobedience is to say we will interrupt business as usual to demand these issues be addressed,” Father Pfleger stated. They will meet at a vacant lot on the South East corner at 79th Street owned by Carter Temple. The youth will lead supporters down the northbound lane of 79th and the Dan Ryan to 67th Street.
Pfleger pointed to the ongoing and current proof why he’s holding the peaceful demonstration. Ticking off statistics of children who were shot in Chicago so far this year he said, “The month of June began in Chicago with three children 15 and younger being shot over three days and ended up with five kids shot over the weekend.
“So far this year, at least 61 children—15 and under—have been hit by gun fire in this city. That is close to what it was at this time in 2016 and 2017 when violence in the city reached near record levels, according to data kept by the (Chicago) Tribune.”
Joining Pfleger at the press conference were Rev. Jackson; Pastor Donald Dew; Rev. Chris Harris; Pastor David Swanson; Jaquie Algee, SEIU; Mack I. Julion, president of the National Association of letter Carriers; youth leaders Trevon Bosley, 20, the son of Pam and Tom Bosley whose son, Terrell, was killed on April 4, 2006; and Rie’Onna Holmon, 15, along with a number of other youth.
Holmon said, “Five innocent lives were snatched away. Thirty-five innocent people including a 12-year-old boy and two women who were standing outside of a hospital were injured during this past weekend. If you can shutdown Lake Shore Drive for more than a day to install a bridge, then we can shutdown the Dan Ryan for two-hours to get the justice we deserve for these innocent lives being lost…
She said it is time demands are met… a demand for the governor, the mayor and elected officials “to become more aggressive when it comes to gun violence and policy, when it comes to innocent youth dying every day to senseless gun violence….
“You can’t keep questioning how Chicago has the strictest gun laws with the most gun violence when I can take a 30-minute drive to Indiana and purchase a gun with no questions asked. You can’t keep saying it is gang violence because at the end of the day it’s still gun violence…still innocent human beings dying from stray bullets….”
Holmon wants officials to be more aggressive and caring about youth being gunned down almost on a daily basis. “We demand that you fight for our lives and right to live.” She gave officials two options “give us what we want or go to the unemployment line because we will vote you out.”
Bosley painted an even grimmer picture of Chicago saying that 1,399 people have been shot so far this year and 266 kills so far this year. “With violence steadily increasing in our city, our elected officials are still not trying to solve our problems” like state and federal gun legislation, under-funded schools and under-funded anti-violence programs, Bosley said they have solutions to these problems.
“Most importantly,” he continued, “We still have a problem with the new voices not being heard. We will be shutting down the Dan Ryan Expressway so our elected officials” and the candidates “will hear our voices because we have the solutions to these problems, but we need them to be implemented. “We’re not just protesting without a plan.”
Referring to the Nov. 6th election, Bosley said a group of youth leaders would like to meet with the incumbents and the candidates. “We’re not going to vote for Democratic or Republican candidates…. We’re going to vote for issues that affect us….”
His message to them is clear. “Do not send us your deputies, your assistants or your send-off men. Until our voices are heard, we will continue to disrupt life as usual, and if the state police want to prohibit us from being on the expressway, the state police need to prohibit inequality in our city.”
Father Pfleger announced that he received a hand-delivered letter from ISP director Leo P. Schmitz warning Pfleger and his supporters not to enter any expressways in Illinois “or they will face arrest and prosecution.”
In a press release, Schmitz, who confirmed he had spoken to Father Pfleger several times. “Shutting down and marching on the expressway recklessly places lives in danger by cutting off emergency services to those around the city who need it most” to say nothing about traffic congestion and medical emergencies.
But, Father Pfleger said those who were shot were also inconvenienced. “If they want to arrest children, mothers, pastors and civic leaders and elected officials, if that is the sense they are going to take…. They close it for every event that’s been going on this city,” he said asking “Why not close it down for the people”?
While the ISP is vowing to arrest the protesters, the Chicago Police Department said they were not making any arrests but wishes Pfleger would call off the event. Pfleger conducts weekly peace marches including down Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and State Street.
“We decided to take a page from the civil rights movement…when people keep ignoring you, you take it up a notch until we get responses…. If they (CPD) say doing this will pull officers from the most needed neighborhoods in the city of Chicago, then pull them from the North Side.”
Father Pfleger called on the mayor and the governor to put together an “aggressive, targeted plan to equal the unequal playing field.” He said officials should tell companies to hire from the neighborhood if they want tax credits. He wants every school to be great schools like Walter Payton.
“When people come out of jail, they are given nothing and then told don’t come back. We want resources to make sure that when they come out of jail, we’re here to help them get back into the mainstream of their life,” Pfleger said. “You can’t tell people don’t come back and then you cut off all of the resources from them to be able to stand on their own two feet.”
Father Pfleger reminded reporters that Gov. Rauner “missed an opportunity to regulate gun licensing shops in the state of Illinois, and he vetoed it.” When asked about the possibility of arrests by ISP, Pfleger said, “This is a non-violent demonstration. We are reaching out to lawyers to work pro bono with people” who may get arrested. “It us sad to me that the state of Illinois is taking an aggressive approach like this that we have not found from the CPD.” He said the ISP would not have made his call without the permission of the governor.
Rev. Jackson said, “In Selma it was Edmund Pettus Bridge. In Chicago, it’s the Dan Ryan…” Referring to the nine endangered communities, Jackson said, “We know where the guns come from. They are not manufactured in the city.
“There is a redline border,” Jackson said. Wednesday, Jackson told the Associated Press that “behind the ghetto border” lays unemployment, poor schools…. We’re not backing down. We’re not afraid.” Rev. Jackson said just like in 1983 when he and others led a boycott against the Chicago Fest into a massive voter registration campaign. “We changed officials and Harold Washington was elected. This will be part of a massive voter registration campaign against oppression,” Jackson said.
Pastor Dew, who heads the Antioch Baptist Church, agreed saying, “We are not afraid to do what we need to do to bring attention to the senseless gun violence, to the disparity in the economics, to the poor provision of jobs and other opportunities in our communities. We join with Father Pfleger and other faith leaders to our young people who are giving leadership to this demonstration against violence….”
Pastor Harris, from Bright Star Church of God in Christ, who was joined by Pastor David Swanson from the New Community Covenant Church, said, “As Bronzeville faith leaders, we are proud to be partners with this Dan Ryan shutdown for the purpose of raising awareness and encouraging action,” said Harris.
“If the President of the U.S. would come to Chicago today, law enforcement would immediately be pulled and the entire expressway would absolutely be shutdown without negotiation, without conversation and without fail to protect one man who ironically has not done anything currently to save the lives of the thousands who have been murdered, shot or wounded in this great city of Chicago.
“If they would shut it down for him, why would we not shut it down for our slave sons and our dying daughters as well as the families and communities who are continually traumatized by gun violence?” asked Harris who is providing trauma counseling for these victims.
Calling on elected officials, residents and those affected by gun violence to join Father Pfleger, Harris asked, “Why won’t we shut up? Why will we shut it down? It’s because we all feel shut out of resources and addressed violence in Chicago….”
Algee, who is director of External Relations for SEIU Healthcare, IL, IN, KS and MO, who lost her son and only son was shot and killed, said, It’s been too much.” Her brother, Ken Franklin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, son was shot and killed last year as well as some SEIU family members.
A resident of Roseland, Algee said, “We live in these communities and experience the tragedies that occur far to often in them. We want to be partners…want to help lead the effort in finding answers to the violence….” To the mayor, the governor and elected officials she added, “If you are not working to be part of the solution, then move out of the way because you then become part of the problem.
“We are shutting down the Dan Ryan because it doesn’t seem like you are hearing our cry,” Algee said. Pointing to the revenue-generating events like Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago where police are deployed, she said, “You don’t say it is too many. Instead of infusing our communities with resources, you divest them. You closed dozens of schools all at once. You don’t fulfill your promises to build affordable houses where you’ve torn down buildings. You can’t stop the flow of illegal guns into our communities, but you pour money into developments downtown and take away TIF money.”
Saying she has to be honest, Algee said, “Far too many in our community think you allow the violence to continue so you can clear black people out of the inner city and have them move to the suburbs or out-of-state.”
Algee said just as the mayor used his political clout to get Amazon and other big corporations to either consider coming to Chicago or actually moving here, “We need you to demonstrate that kind of commitment to addressing the issues of jobs, education and resources on the South and West Sides.
“We’re going to do our part until you do our part,” Algee said ticking off a number of organizations committed to marching with Father Pfleger like: ATU local 308, Chicago Federation of Labor, SEIU Healthcare, SEIU State Council, Action Now, CBTU, Indivisible Chicago, Indivisible Illinois and others. “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” she said with others at the press conference joining in on the chant.
Julion, another union leader who represents 5,000 letter carriers, also endorsed the shutdown. He said many of his letter carriers work in areas affected by gun violence.
“Just last week, I was at a post office and a letter carrier was taken off the street because she was caught in the middle of a gun fight. She is not back at work today. There have been several other incidents of this. The madness has to stop. Enough is enough….” Julion believes they “should shut it down until things change.”
At the end of the press conference, Bosley lifted up the ISP press release saying, “We want the state police and everybody trying to stop us to understand that we deal with inequalities every day in our city” and asked those attending the press conference on the count of three to tear it up.