By Chinta Strausberg, Gary Crusader
Violence can be curbed in Chicago if residents and churches band together and take back their communities block by block because crooks don’t like the spotlight that exposes their illegal deeds according to Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of the Community of Saint Sabina.
He suggested residents make up placards saying,” ‘We are watching you,’ and put them everywhere: on windows and poles. People are less likely to commit crimes when they know people are aggressively watching them.”
Saying it is time out for finger-pointing, Pfleger also challenged churches to hold listening hearings where people can share their needs and concerns. “We have all failed because our children should not be going through this.”
He gave an analogy of two tigers in a cage and how after awhile they eat each other. “Do you want to know why there is Black-on-Black crime? We’re in a cage on the South Side, and we’re not getting fed with education, jobs, opportunities, and options, so we’re killing each other out of survival.” Pfleger said he does not condone that, but he understands that type of behavior.
During the interview Pfleger recalled how during one of his community meetings a woman from one of the groups asked him what could she do to stop drugs from being sold on her block. He told the group they should sit on their lawn chairs armed with paper and pencil and to squint and take notes when the druggies come by.
Out of the entire group, he said one woman who is 75, said she would do it and turned to another friend, who was 80, to join her. A third, who was 85, completed the mission. “One woman told me the lead in her pencil was broken and I told her to pretend to write anyway.” The others in the group remained “shamefully” silent, but Pfleger said the unity of those three seniors was enough to chase the drug dealers away from the neighborhood.
Pfleger continued, “We got to understand either we break out of this cage and we demand and get the resources we need (or) we will continue to see blood on our streets. It’s time to change it. I am sick and tired of Chicago seeing every day new numbers (of shootings and murders) outdoing the last numbers.”
Pfleger said last Wednesday was the first time in his 41 years at Saint Sabina that he received three calls in one day to do funerals of young people who had been murdered in one week.
“The guy whose hand I shook two weeks ago in one of our marches got killed this weekend. His cousin also got killed this weekend,” Pfleger said.
Pfleger went on to state that when he goes to schools and asks if the students know someone who has been killed, every hand goes up.
“Children should not have to live like that. It’s hard enough for us as adults, but it sure isn’t right for our children, and it’s time to change it.”
Invited by the Beverly Civic Association, Pfleger made his remarks at the Greater Walters A.M.E. Zion Church, 8422 S. Damen Avenue, headed by Rev. Joel Miles to a standing-room-only crowd.
Several elected officials attended, including: former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger; State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st); State Sen. William Cunningham (D-18th); State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th); Alderman Derrick G. Curtis (18th); and activist Phillip Jackson, founder & executive director of the Black Star Project.
Pfleger said what is needed to curb the violence are more resources. While he does not condone stealing or crime, Pfleger said he understands why some people victimize others just to survive.
Citing poverty in Chicago, Pfleger said it is just as bad as when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was here raising this very same issue. “In the day that we are in, people are hungry. People are thirsty, desperate. People are doing all kind of crazy stuff.”
For example, Pfleger said one woman was going into her house at 4 p.m. with an armful of groceries when a man pointed a gun at her and said, “Ma’am, I am not going to hurt you. I just need your groceries.”
“We lack a moral conscience in our society today,” Pfleger said. “But, the biggest problem we got to fight is this ‘me and my house, me and my backyard mentality.’ Get away from all of this. This is our block, our community. Until we stand up and get connected with one another, crime will continue.”
“Blocks that are aggressively watching each other are less likely to have some problems,” said Pfleger, who challenged churches to hold listening meetings to hear the concerns of the people.
But, he also asked people to help legislators pass gun laws, including banning assault weapons. “We should be setting up stings in Indiana.”
With the presidential election at its peak, Pfleger said, “This is a window of opportunity because a lot of our guns come from Indiana because of their lax laws. It is easy to get overwhelmed when we have a weekend where 53 were shot and 13 killed. It’s easy to just shake our head [sic] and bury them in the sand and hope that it will get better. It won’t get better. We have to make it better, and we can do it.”
Pfleger went on to say, “We don’t lack the answers. We lack the will to demand what is rightfully ours. We should stop having a tale of two cities. The South Side and the West Side should be treated just like the North Side and the North Shore.”
Pfleger called for an equal playing field, “We need the jobs,” and suggested that part of the tax breaks that downtown businesses get should be used to create jobs for the communities where unemployment is the highest. Chicago is in a state of emergency and that federal funds are needed.
Flowers reacted to Pfleger, “People came out seeking information, looking for help to help us navigate through the violence. Everybody wants to participate, but we need to be teaching African-American history in our schools and we are not.”