State officials said they could have two lanes of a major Illinois thoroughfare, but the anti-violence activists led by Chicago priest Michael Pfleger said they had one goal today: shut it down.
And after at least 45 minutes of negotiations between Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson (on behalf of protestors) and state officials, the protesters did just that, closing the northbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway for an hour for their northbound march, with the Chicago skyline glittering in the distance late Saturday morning. The goal, Father Pfleger said, was to grab the attention of political leaders who, he says, have the power to curb violence and bring jobs and better education to the city’s south and west sides.
“The children are going to lead us,” Father Pfleger said at the start of the march, a nod to a group of young activists who walked in the front of the protest. Other organizers included Chicago Strong, Gather Activism and March for Our Lives Chicago, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
Anti-violence protesters led by Father @MichaelPfleger march north on the Dan Ryan Expressway toward downtown #Chicago, chanting “Shut it down!” They want a meeting with young activists and Gov Rauner and Mayor Emanuel to discuss jobs, schools and gun violence #DanRyanShutDownpic.twitter.com/GBMQvAfdYd— Michael J. O'Loughlin (@MikeOLoughlin) July 7, 2018
Hundreds of state vehicles, including more than a half-dozen white buses emblazoned with “Illinois Department of Corrections” and large trucks and vans, had initially closed three lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway to facilitate the march, but protesters stood at the entrance ramp chanting, “Shut it down!”
Police eventually closed both of the remaining open lanes, eliciting loud cheers from people gathered on a highway overpass just north of the protest site. Marchers then proceeded about a mile north along the northbound side of the highway, which remained closed for about an hour. Dozens of Chicago Police officers rode bikes ahead of the protesters, and members of the Illinois State Police marched behind them. Back at the starting point of the protest, motorists exited their cars to stretch as they waited for the road to reopen.
“The children are going to lead us,” Father Michael Pfleger said at the start of the march, a nod to a group of young activists who walked in the front of the protest.
Among the marchers was Kim Woodard, who brought her 7-year-old grandson David, both members of Father Pfleger’s parish, Saint Sabina. Ms. Woodard told America that she lives in the neighborhood where the march took place.
Kim Woodard, with her grandson, David, said she is a member of St Sabina Catholic Church and is marching in the #DanRyanShutDown to bring awareness to gun violence and the need for jobs and better schools in Chicago’s south side. pic.twitter.com/g6314XHjH6— Michael J. O'Loughlin (@MikeOLoughlin) July 7, 2018
Erica Kimble said she was marching because gun violence had affected her family: a shooting involving her niece last month.
“We’re marching for better schools, we’re marching for reduced violence in our city, we’re marching for better resources available in our areas,” she told America. “We have got to let our political leaders know that during this upcoming election season, the people of Chicago are watching.”
Chicago saw near-record levels of gun violence in 2016, and while the number of shooting victims is down from this time last year, close to 1,400 people have been shot, including dozens under the age of 16, according to The Chicago Tribune.
In the days leading up to the protest, state officials urged Father Pfleger not to move forward with plans for the march, citing potential threats to public safety. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel threw his support behind the effort, and in a statement released late Friday night, Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, also expressed his support.
“History has proven many times that nonviolent action and peaceful protest have the power to create change,” the cardinal said. “The change we need in this moment is to end a culture of violence and indifference. This is a priority we must all embrace and for which we must all work.”
The cardinal, who used a Good Friday procession earlier this year to call attention to gun violence, said in the statement that the young activists fighting for gun control “make us proud. They give us hope.”
Following the march, the cardinal released another statement, saying, “Let us give thanks that all came together to achieve a peaceful march today. Now it is time for all of us, especially our leaders, to take up with vigor the concerns raised by our young people and all those who marched today.”
Chicago saw near-record levels of gun violence in 2016, and while the number of shooting victims is down from this time last year, close to 1,400 people have been shot.
Marchers held signs provided by event organizers reading “We need good schools” and “We need common sense gun laws.” Others brought handmade placards, some taking aim at Emanuel, who said earlier in the week he supported the goals of the marchers. Others targeted Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who tweeted during the protest that he was doing all he could to keep the expressway open.
The two politicians sparred on Twitter following the protest.
“This is unacceptable. We had clear parameters that allowed the protestors to be heard while respecting law and order. Instead, they chose instead to cause chaos,” the governor tweeted, adding he was “disappointed” in Mr. Emanuel. The mayor responded: “It was a peaceful protest. Delete your account.”
Father Pfleger was joined by dozens of other faith leaders at Saturday’s march, where temperatures stayed in the mid-70s and the humidity was low. Among them was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said Chicago was divided, with the wealthier, and whiter, north side reaping resources at the expense of the south and west sides.
“There’s a border between Texas and Mexico and there’s a border in Chicago,” Mr. Jackson said.
As protesters exited the highway and made their way to buses provided by event organizers, Father Pfleger held an impromptu press conference and explained what activists wanted.
“We want good schools, we want more jobs, we want help for those coming out from incarceration, we want economic development, we want resources, we want state legislation and federal legislation on guns, we want mental health help,” he said. “We said we came to shut it down and that’s what we did.”
He said that political leaders must agree to sit down with the young activists who led the march.
“They must meet and show us how they’re going to give the resources we demand,” Father Pfleger yelled into a bullhorn. “Today we got their attention, and next week, we get the solutions.”