1,500 send message to gangs: “No more shooting”

Gang leaders agree to meet with Pfleger  


By Chinta Strausberg

Leading more than 1,500 supporters down West 79th Street where he stopped at two sites known as hangouts for the gangs and called for an end to the shooting, Father Michael L. Pfleger late Friday night called for a peace truce and the gang leaders accepted his invitation and agreed to meet with him on Monday.

During the “Community Rally & March” which began at Saint Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Place, Pfleger said, “This past school year as of today, 27 Chicago Public School (CPS) students have been killed. As of today, 229 CPS students have been shot. That’s not even counting alternative schools, dropouts. That’s only CPS students because nobody’s counting the other numbers. Three youth read the names of those students who were fatally shot.”

Pfleger asked parents who lost a child to gunfire to raise their hand. A number of them quickly raised their hand. He then asked family member or friends who has been shot or knew of someone who had been killed to raise their hands. Once again, a sizeable number raised their hands. Looking out over the crowd that spilled out into the street, Pfleger said, “It’s called insanity.”

Three female students read the names of the CPS students who were killed in this academic year.

It was an opportunity to introduce Spencer Leak, Sr., president of the Leak Funeral Homes who said; “I’m tired of making funeral arrangements for young people shot down in the streets of Chicago. “

Saying he had just left his funeral home where the family of Dante Smallwood (who was shot in the head on the 3400 block of West 79th Street) was gathered, Leak said, “That was one of the names they called, and we just arranged that funeral as I have had to arrange over 10 in my funeral home alone over the last week. It doesn’t make sense,” he said saying Pfleger was correct in calling the shootings “insanity.”

Leak, who used to run the Cook County Jail more than 20-years ago, said when he left 83 percent of those arrested were in jail because of cocaine, marijuana or some controlled substance.

“Yesterday, the President asked how many are on drugs now, the same percentage as was 20-years ago.  That is what’s happened to all those young men. They are water spilled on the ground and water spilled on the ground cannot be restored,” said Leak.

He asked the men to be like Father Pfleger “because a father is one who takes the place of the real father…when the biological father is no where to be found.  Be like Father Pfleger and begin to be like father’s to these young people so no one will ever say they are like water spilled on the ground that does not have the capacity to be restored,” he said.

Leak said it would not have made sense not to have Father Pfleger “at the beginning of this long hot summer. I thank God that he has been restored to pastor this great church.”

Pfleger said the key reason they were there is that “stopping the violence is everybody’s business. Nobody gets a pass on this one,” he asked the crowd to repeat. “This is not a police problem. This is not just a parent problem. When we get our community together, we don’t need the police on our blocks because we should be policing our blocks together, our homes, our blocks, our communities when we take charge again.”

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, said, “I’m here because I’m old and because I’m with you young people….”  Having met Pfleger 30-years ago, Wright said his daughter was coming from Percy Julian High School and got robbed. She called her father and told him she was “going to get my stuff back.”

When she told Wright some of robbers lived next door to them, he was surprised. His daughter did get her things back with an apology. That same summer, Wright said one of his members got shot and killed on church property. He called for peace to prevail this summer.

A police officer for 23-years, Sixth District Police Cmdr. Eddie Johnson said, “I am sick and tired seeing black kids …getting killed.” He challenged parents to step up to the plate and assume their parental responsibilities. “This isn’t a police problem,” he said. “It’s a social problem.”  “If we don’t start fixing this at home, it will never be fixed. It’s up to us fix this problem….”

Alderman Latasha Thomas (17th) and Illinois State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16th) also called for peace this summer with Collins calling the current state of violence “a culture of violence” she said will take everyone in the community to work as one. She vowed to continue being the voice of those in the community and fighting for funding to help save and develop “the human capital.”

Thomas, who is a mother of two, said, “In my house, there are no locked doors…. In your house, you should know every thing that is going on…. Stop waiting for somebody” to raise your child,” said Thomas.

A number of churches, mosques, organizations, motorcycle clubs and other groups embraced the Faith Community of Saint Sabina’s “Community Rally & March”.

As they marched West on 79th Street, Pfleger called out the gang leaders by name and told them again that the shooting has to stop.  “The shooting will stop. We love you. We’ll help you. We’ll try to help you get a job, do what ever we can, get you back in school, but we will not tolerate shooting. This is personal now. Ya’ll just made it personal.”

Naming one of the gangs that has been involved in shooting, Pfleger said they do not own Marshfield, and they don’t own Ashland” and another gang “does not own Laflin. These are the community’s streets,” he bellowed through a bullhorn as he stood at 79th and Ashland.

“If ya’ll want to intimidate by guns, understand, now it’s personal. We will come back here and take over this block. We love you. We want the best for you what God wants for you. We want you to reach your destiny and your destiny is not hanging out on a corner or lying up in somebody’s jail,” said Pfleger.

“Your destiny is great, and we you’re your future, but we are not going to allow shooting in our neighborhood.” Pfleger said he’ll talk any time with gang leaders who later accepted his offer and set the date for a Monday peace summit.

With his security standing by and no cameras allowed, Pfleger huddled with the gang members at 78th and Marshfield Streets, and as he asked them to lay down their guns and stop the shootings, the marchers prayed and led by Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, they sang gospel songs while calling for peace to prevail in the neighborhoods.

When they returned to Saint Sabina around 9:30 p.m., Pfleger asked the crowd, “Who’s the biggest gang in the city”? They responded, “We are.” “We have to rise up and stand up and decide we’re not going to tolerate things that are no longer normal in our community….”

He ended the rally with a song led by Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago.

Pfleger prayed and thanked the more than 1,000 black, white and Hispanic supporters who attended the anti-violence rally and march. He even had them to stretch out their hands towards the police and asked God to “bless our police to be safe…and that we are all brothers and sisters…keep them safe. Put a hedge of protection around them…. Help tonight not to be a one night thing.” Pfleger asked each adult to love and speak to children on their block to make them feel worthy.”

Pfleger said the next march he holds will be one of calling for jobs.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.