A massive protest today in Chicago aimed at curbing gun violence is remarkable for several reasons, including that it shut down traffic on one of the city’s major expressways and that at the front of the march the top Chicago police officer stood in unison with the march’s leader. This march was planned in advance to shut down several northbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway, but eventually wound up shutting down all northbound lanes. Also unusual was that while the Illinois state police had in advance of the march threatened to arrest marchers on the expressway, the Chicago police department said in a statement that they would not arrest any marchers peacefully protesting gun violence.
The march in Chicago today, with thousands of marchers, was also meant to highlight the higher rates of gun violence in certain areas of Chicago, particularly the south and west sides of the city, and to protest against the limited educational and job opportunities in those areas as well. Reverend Michael Pfleger, a priest at St. Sabina Catholic Church and a prominent civil rights activist, was the leader of the march. The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who previously served as President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, was supportive of the march, as was the Chicago Police Department (CPD), which said in a statement, according to the Chicago Tribune, “CPD will not participate in any physical arrests of those peaceful(ly) protesting gun violence.”
Pfleger this week said civil disobedience is what makes authorities and governments take notice and listen. He emphasized the march is only the first step “to draw the attention to the urgency of the problem.” The next move, Pfleger said, is for concerned citizens from communities most beset by violence to sit down with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials to discuss how to get more jobs and other resources to these neighborhoods…The Rev. (Jesse) Jackson said Friday that the inconvenience to motorists will be temporary, while the conditions plaguing communities near the march site — job loss, shuttered schools and the collapse of manufacturing and industrial facilities — has been permanent…Jackson said the protest is designed to help spark more reinvestment in struggling South Side neighborhoods plagued by gun violence and “huge deserts for jobs and education.” “We have an obligation to address those who have been abandoned,” Jackson said.
Pfleger had indicated before the march that it was “not rocket science” for the Illinois state police to set up the road closures to allow for the protest, despite the state police’s complaints, since such roadway closures are often organized for security reasons around events such as presidential visits.
Here is a tweet showing images from the march. The picture in the lower right shows Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson (in uniform) and the march’s leader, Reverend Michael Pfleger (immediately to Johnson’s right) walking arm in arm at the front of the march. Reverend Jesse Jackson was also involved in the march:
— Ashlee Rezin (@Ashlee_Rezin) July 7, 2018
Chicago does have an enormous problem with gun violence, particularly in certain neighborhoods. While the overall number of shooting victims has decreased since it reached a 20-year high in 2016, according to the Chicago Tribune, already there have been 1,378 people shot in Chicago this year, with at least 61 of the victims being children under the age of 15.
Protests against gun violence and advocacy for common sense gun control laws, have increased greatly in response to the all-too-common tragedy of school shootings. Students and young adults have been a major force in those protests. Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and a prominent voice in the student movement against gun violence, tweeted about today’s march in Chicago, writing, “THE DAN RYAN IS CURRENTLY BEING SHUT DOWN IM SO PROUD”.
THE DAN RYAN IS CURRENTLY BEING SHUT DOWN IM SO PROUD 😭😭😭 https://t.co/AEcoySLXVH
— Emma González (@Emma4Change) July 7, 2018
Gonzalez also pointed to Illinois’ Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, one of the voices opposed to the breadth of today’s march, calling the expansion to closing all northbound lanes of the expressway “unacceptable” and “chaos” on Twitter. Chicago has a long history of being predominantly Democratic, so the Republican governor of Illinois often objects to Chicago based on politics, which appears to be the case again today. The people of Chicago, the Chicago police department, the mayor of Chicago, and major civil rights leaders on the other hand all supported the march, which was massive, to be sure, but appeared to be anything but chaos. The march reached a peaceful conclusion, ending where it was planned, ending peacefully.
Here is a video from Chicago’s ABC7 News showing the peaceful end to the march:
Drivers today blocked in their travels by this peaceful march on Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway may have felt inconvenienced, but that is part of the point – that a sizable segment of Chicago’s population faces the fear of gun violence every day, which goes far beyond inconvenience into life and death struggle.