By Erick Johnson
For over a half a mile on 79th Street, bodies were everywhere. On a sunny morning on Saturday, May 20, an eerie silence fell upon a busy thoroughfare in Greater Grand Crossing as thousands of bodies of men, women, teenagers and even toddlers lay across 20 city blocks. While some onlookers cried, others remained speechless by the sea of red on the street that constantly bustles with traffic.
The scene was fake, but the rising number of deaths from shootings in Chicago have been real. As gunfire rises with the warm weather, nearly 3,000 people staged an emotional demonstration that dramatized the high death toll that’s still growing from senseless shootings in Chicago.
It was a symbolic gesture for thousands of demonstrators seeking to take back their community as they seized numerous city blocks in a spirit-filled rally against gunfire. The event was part of “Prayer on the 9,” an annual peace rally organized by Pastor John F. Hannah of the mega church, New Life Covenant Southeast Church.
The event capped a weekend of demonstrations, where residents remained defiant in their crusade against senseless gunfire in Chicago. On Friday, residents in South Shore held a march in their neighborhood.
At the “Prayer on the 9,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a rare public appearance in the Black community, along with new Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and his new Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp. They joined Hannah, Saint Sabina’s Michael Pfleger and several Chicago Black aldermen as they kicked off the demonstration in front of a large crowd that packed an empty lot near the corner of Greenwood and 79th street. Many cheered as Emanuel made a brief speech, urging residents to fight for their neighborhoods.
‘There’s nothing stronger than what’s out here,” Emanuel said. “Too many kids in Chicago are having their lives taken from them. There’s too much gunfire and not enough laughter.”
After the rally, demonstrators lined both sides of 79th street. While many shouted “No more guns,” some sang church songs as drivers honked their horns to show their support. Pastor Hannah urged residents to not grow weary from gunfire as he led a march down 79th street.
Inspired by a recent police sweep arrest of some 140 people, including 95 gang members, demonstrators prayed out loud. Demonstrators asked for strength as they fight an uphill battle in neighborhoods where shootings force many residents to live in fear.
Demonstrators made perhaps the biggest statement when thousands poured onto 79th street, where they lied down to symbolized to numerous victims who have been killed by gunfire.
In reality, 1,285 people have been shot this year and 245 of them have died. As residents marched for peace last weekend, five people in Chicago were killed and 34 wounded in shootings that rocked the city. With warm weather this Memorial Day Weekend, the shootings are expected to climb.
The grim forecast did not discourage Tisha Clemons of Beverly from joining the “Prayer on the 9” rally. Her son, Melvin Jacobs, was killed after he was shot in the head at a party in Morgan Park on December 4, 1989. Nearly six years later, his best friend, Malcom J. Stuckey was gunned down in Englewood on February 24, 1995.
Clemons said she doesn’t attend many rallies because she doesn’t want to relive the pain or revisit the moment all over again. However, Clemons said the massive police sweep of gangsters has given her renewed hope and courage.
“Being out here with Pastor Hannah and the community helps,” said Clemons, who plans to attend more rallies against gunfire.
Another resident at “Prayer on the 9,” William Dondle, planned to join a memorial celebration in Bridgeport later that day for his nephew De’Shawn Wright. He would have turned 20 on May 19. Wright was killed on February 4, 2012 in a drive-by shooting in Marquette Park. He was only 16 years old when he died.
“I was devastated. I’m still devastated,” Dondle said.