Father Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina Church on Chicago’s South Side, recently led a dynamic protest against community violence by shutting down two miles on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Father Pfleger has a 40-year history of fighting to improve conditions in the Black community. Parishioners and supporters have called the influence of his long and effective ministry at St. Sabina “heroic,” “transformative,” and the “lifeblood” of the community. St. Sabina was struggling before Father Pfleger took the helm, and he, along with his parishioners, has made great strides in helping to better the Auburn-Gresham community, and by extension, communities elsewhere. According to the South Side Weekly, “The congregation first drove drug dealers away from 79th Street, then forced local gas stations and stores to stop selling drug paraphernalia and warded off an influx of tobacco- and alcohol-themed billboards from the neighborhood. Later, parishioners fought to root out prostitution on 79th and in Auburn Gresham at large, buying time from prostitutes and using it to try to convince them to change their ways.”
Moreover … “There are buildings owned by or affiliated with the church in every direction, including a K–8 school, a senior living facility, and centers for employment, social aid, and neighborhood development. The church has lobbied to bring businesses to the neighborhood, including a BJ’s Market & Bakery, a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, an Osco drug store, and a combination Walgreen’s–Chase Bank that stands on the former site of a by-the-hour motel that prostitutes would frequent.”
These are just a few of the things that Pfleger and his flock have accomplished. In spite of this, Father Pfleger thinks that more needs to be done. The Dan Ryan shutdown was another tactic used to bring attention to the problem of violence.
One of the most vocal opponents of Father Pfleger’s Dan Ryan strategy, who staged a counter-demonstration against the march, was Reverend Anthony Williams, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Berwyn. Reverend Williams recently lost his son to gun violence. His focus since then has been on getting funding in the communities for economic growth that also includes PTSD money. Williams has recently gotten the attention of legislators, and was concerned that the timing of Pfleger’s efforts would detract from his momentum with the legislators and the acquisition of government funds.
It is commendable and understandable that people want to see movement toward fighting the unprecedented violence faced by communities. But there is no need for in-fighting; there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. For instance, why oppose Father Pfleger with a counter-demonstration when both strategies support a common goal? Basically, this should not be an “either/or” approach, but a “both/and” one, since no one group may have the final key to success regarding the elimination of community violence.
Violence is as American as apple pie, and more broadly, world violence is an ongoing component of the human condition. But just as it is often said that all politics are local, it can also be said that the key to effectively fighting community violence lies within the community itself! There is one major element, however, that is overlooked in almost all of the highly-touted strategies fighting against community violence, and that is the perpetrators! Everyone blames the president, the governor, the mayor, the lack of jobs, poor schools, and any other element that can be pulled out of the magical blame hat. Everyone is blamed for community violence except those who are committing it!!!! This is tantamount to aiming at a problem with the deliberate intent of shooting someone on the sidelines.
The Black community has all of the psycho-social tools needed to put a serious dent in the problem. The key is placing some of the focus on those who are committing it. It has long been known that there is a “code of silence” in the community. The old adage “snitches get stiches” still stands. Many community residents know exactly who the individuals terrorizing their communities are, but they are afraid to deal with it.
What needs to be developed is an underground “drop-a-dime” approach wherein a coalition of community residents comes together secretly to identify, and therefore, shed light on the Black bogeymen who are terrorizing them. No amount of tax dollars and political coercion alone will be able to stop the violence; it will take multiple community-driven strategies. In the meanwhile, both Father Pfleger and Reverend Williams have brought powerful attention to the issue. Now all we need is an emboldened community to do its part! A Luta Continua!