By Final Call News
Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church in Chicago drew national news and set the city abuzz with chatter after a Saturday shutdown of a major South Side expressway.
Unless you want people dying as a result of getting struck by cars, the authorities absolutely had to get involved because protestors walking on a highway is a public safety issue.
The wise ones in this city and at the state capitol knew closing the Dan Ryan Expressway as protestors wanted was the only way to avoid injury and ugly, well-publicized violence, if police tried mass arrests. That’s not being compromised, that’s exerting a measure of power–the question is how willing are we to increase the power?
Father Mike, as he is known, happens to be a White Catholic priest who serves a Black congregation in a Black neighborhood. He has worked for decades to improve and has improved that area. The Ark at St. Sabina is a refuge for young people and a light in the midst of darkness. His activist ministry stays in the streets confronting police violence and city neglect of Black people as well as fratricidal violence that wracks Auburn—Gresham and nearby neighborhoods.
Father Pfleger has led peaceful marches through these neighborhoods reaching out to lost souls and lost youth for decades. With the July 7 march, Father Pfleger made life a little less comfortable for those who drive by broken Black communities and enjoy the bounty of the Chicago Loop. Downtown Chicago boasts museums, theaters, a lakefront and all the offerings of modern urban life just an expressway drive away from safe suburbs.
The march drew the attention of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, threats of arrest from the expressway patrolling Illinois State Police, and the condemnation of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. But the determination of marchers and the wisdom of law enforcement resulted in a full shutdown of the expressway.
“Minister Farrakhan always says that if you’re not willing to accept the risks that come with standing up, then you shouldn’t get involved,” Father Pfleger told The Final Call.Rev. Jesse Jackson, as well as other local pastors and youth leaders from the South Side, joined Father Pfleger for a pre-protest press conference. “Mass civil disobedience was a key strategy during the civil rights movement,” said Father Pfleger. “We wanted to take it up a notch and we wanted to do something en masse that would interrupt business as usual in a larger way. … Because when people get inconvenienced, they begin to speak up and call on those who can to fix this, because now they’re lives are being interrupted.”
The object of civil disobedience is to show political and societal powers-that-be a level of mass dissatisfaction and issue a call for positive change. The desire is for public policy change, not anarchy. After the action comes a meeting and then discussions about what needs to change and how it will happen.
But again, how strong is the demand for change? The highway shutdown was a sign of significant power to inspire and mobilize people. Such a movement could have political consequences for a mayor and governor who have seen tough times but seek reelection next year.
Carping from the sidelines, mocking those who took action and disrespecting the long years of work by Father Pfleger won’t help and won’t solve the problem.
It will take a major and courageous effort to bring changes needed for a city long divided and communities long abandoned and targeted for disinvestment. Our deprived and socially engineered community too often feeds on itself. So the problem isn’t just bad cops and police shootings, its Black killing Black violence. Killings on Black blocks by Black people make it difficult for many to see beyond those battles to the manipulative hand of evil in high places.
Those marching want the city and the state to provide resources to help create real solutions to the problem of gun violence that has plagued Chicago for decades. Father Pfleger said youth involved in the Dan Ryan shutdown have a list of policies they want implemented to curb gun availability and offer more community mental health and trauma services. They want to sit down with political candidates to discuss what concrete plans candidates have to solve these problems. If ignored, they are planning more acts of civil disobedience.
“We will continue to fight a government that has abandoned these communities, but we must also commit to one another to make each other safe,” said Father Pfleger. “And we have to keep doing that. The churches, synagogues and mosques have to be a part of that by getting the word out and getting out into the streets.”
Tio Hardiman, a longtime anti-violence activist, rightly stated: “The only way to stop gun violence in Chicago is the Black community–especially Black men–must unify. Stopping the killing is all about unity amongst our people.”
The answers to these problems are spiritual, economic, political and social. There are many groups and people working on different parts of this equation, an equation too difficult for one man or one group to solve. It’s time to bring those people, those minds, those resources to a common table for the common good of our people, which is good for the city. We should do that, if we want to solve problems. Standing on the sidelines accomplishes nothing.