A well-known, charismatic priest in Chicago, Father Michael PfIeger, who leads a congregation of thousands at St. Sabina Church on the city’s Southside, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, marching arm-in-arm, were joined by thousands of anti-violence protesters who literally “stopped traffic” Saturday, July 7 as they filled lanes usually reserved for automobiles on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
They were marching because of the surge in violence, mostly due to the use, or misuse, of guns, resulting in the triple-digit deaths of babies, mothers, fathers and so many others, almost exclusively living in poor neighborhoods in the city’s Southside and Westside — dominated by Black families.
Ironically, they marched just a day or two away from the two-year anniversary of the police-involved shooting death of Alton Sterling (July 5) who had been selling CDs outside of a store and the senseless multiple shooting, again by police, of Philando Castile who had been trying to obey the officers’ directions when he reached into his pocket for his license and registration during a “routine traffic stop.”
The protest along the Dan Ryan had great significance. Those familiar with Chicago history know that the expressway, in its construction, divided the city so that Blacks were on one side and whites on the other. It also devastated many of the city’s historic Black neighborhoods and businesses — something that’s been done in other urban hotspots including my hometown, Detroit.
But in Chicago, the remnants of once powerful gangs which law enforcement destroyed during the ’90s, have found themselves in smaller, splintered groups — grasping for a corner to call their own and willing to do almost anything for economic survival — selling drugs and weapons to the highest bidders.
Meanwhile, those who could bring peace and stability to the city tend to ignore the cries of poor, Black folk — until last weekend. One thing you don’t want to do in Chi-town is to interrupt the traffic flow. During the seven years I lived there as a college instructor and newspaper editor, you could set your watch to the arrival of the train. In fact, I recall one day during a very cold winter when a train, heading to the city’s suburbs, was several minutes behind schedule. Blacks waiting, like me, just tried to stay warm, But whites began grabbing their flip phones and complained to transit authorities. The train finally came.
During last weekend’s protests, folks said they’ve grown weary for nothing changing in their neighborhoods for the last five years. They said they’d come to the realization that they would need to “make noise” so that their voices and longtime concerns could be heard.
And that’s sho nuff the truth. Blacks have continued to put our trust, our hope and our faith in people with big mouths or with soothing, inspiring words but after the cameras stop rolling, little has changed. I really pray that those who led Chicago’s recent protest have a game plan and action steps that will keep the city’s officials butts in the fire.
When all is said and done, if we are, as Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” we’ve got to become our own advocates, our own spokespersons, our own reimaged versions of Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and Brother Malcolm. We the people can make real, lasting change. And we don’t need to wait or rely on the buffoons of Congress who have been making promises they know they won’t keep for as long as there’s been an America.