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February , 2019
Sunday

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Parents must face empty table chairs

 

By Chinta Strausberg

 

Flanked by more than two dozen supporters, Father Michael L. Pfleger said before you begin to eat your traditional holiday dinner Thursday remember the children who have lost their lives to gun violence for they represent the empty chairs, “unable to attend, victim of gun violence,” parents must face as the nation celebrates yet another Thanksgiving.

At a press conference held at Saint Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Place, Pfleger was joined by a number of parents and anti-violence groups including Colleen Daley, executive director, Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV), Annette Nance-Holt, mother of slain Blair Holt, Ron Holt with the CAPS program, UCAN, a representative from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Chicago Crime Commission, Sandy Lewis representing Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Tony Land representing Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, and many parents who lost children to gun violence like Pam Bosley a member of Purpose Over Pain who lost her son, Terrell.

Nance-Holt lost her son on May 10, 2007. He was shot while aboard a CTA bus. A gang member shot into the bus and Holt shielded a girl from the bullets and was slain.  With tears rolling down her face, Nance-Holt said, “It doesn’t get any easier” as the years go by. “I wish I could bring their children back as well as my own so we wouldn’t have to deal with this but that wouldn’t be.

“Families in Chicago, across the United States will have empty chairs sitting at the table,” she said breaking down in tears. “Our children just did not” die from natural causes or terminal or brief illnesses. “They were murdered,” she said. “They were children and deserved to live a full life.” Instead, parents of murdered children will have to stare at empty chairs this Thanksgiving.

Bosley spoke of the number of unsolved cases “because people are not snitching. They are not telling what is going on.” Her son was shot in 2006 while coming out of church.  “My son stumbled back in church and nobody said anything,” she said. His case is still unsolved.

According to Bosley, in 2006, there were 385 young people shot in Chicago. Their ages ranged from 16-26. In 2007, there were 345 people shot. In 2008 when 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death, Bosley said 393 people were shot. In 2009 when Deontae Smith, 19, was killed, there were 350 killed. In 2010, she said there were 345 killed, and in 2011 as of September, 350 were shot. She blames people for not telling, people who honor the “Code of Silence” that allows murders to get away with their crimes.

“It’s time for us to take a stand,” Bosley said referring to years ago when she said, “we had nosey neighbors. We need that to come back. We have to tell” when they see a crime committed.

Pfleger also displayed a red cloth covered table of four that included a black and purple bunting cloth draped over one of the chairs. It symbolized the death of hundreds of children who have died due to gun violence in the Chicago area.

“We want to remember all of the children who have been slain due to gun violence over the years particularly this last year, and all those unsolved cases where children who were killed but no one prosecuted,” said Pfleger.  “I don’t care how many officers we have around our schools, until we stop the easy access to guns, until we stop the proliferation of guns, we’re never going to stop this violence.”

Pleger said 30,000 people a year are killed in America by gun violence. “That should be a shame and a scandal to our country.” Referring to the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pfleger said “over a week ago, a man with an assault weapon shot into the White House of the United States of America. A bullet lodged in one of the windows of the White House. There has been very little conversation about this assault weapon that shot against eight football fields…and reached the balcony.

“Why are assault weapons not banned in America? Why are assault weapons still allowed in this country? We can’t stop talking about guns? We must stop easy access to guns in America and we must ban assault weapons in America….”

Daley spoke of the proposed conceal and carry bill being pushed by some lawmakers. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act with a vote of 272-154. It requires states to recognize the right to carry licenses from other states similar to driver’s licenses. However, an amendment that would have extended this to Illinois was not included in the final passage. H.R. 822 is now in the Senate.

Daley said, “We must come together and make sure this legislation does not pass out of the Senate.” “We urged everybody to reach out to Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and ask them to vote ‘no.’” Daley said she has since learned that the bill will be attached to a defense-spending bill.

Asked how he felt about the conceal carry bill reportedly being appended to a defense bill in the senate, Pfleger said, “That seems like the only thing they care about in America is defense. We don’t care about violence. We don’t care about poor people…. We don’t care about people sleeping under bridges, but boy you talk about defense and everybody rallies around it. “Well, we’re talking about defense about our children,” Pfleger told reporters. “

“I don’t hear anybody talking about guns not from the White House all the way down to the City Council,” Pfleger said earlier mentioning he has not heard of this topic since former Mayor Richard M. Daley left office. “We need police. We hear about more security cameras and that’s great. We need more security cameras, but if you have a gun, you’re going to use it.”

Pfleger wants everyone to speak about against guns including the President all the way down to city government. “Our children are dying in our streets. We should be speaking about guns and I’m wondering why the silence. Are we so damn afraid of the NRA in America? To hell with the NRA,” he said.

When he met last week with a group of high school students, he asked them how many could get a gun today. “Every single one of them said they could get them today. Some kids can’t get a textbook in their classroom, but they can get a gun on the street. We can put all of the police we want to on the streets, but as long as guns are a part of our wardrobe in America, as Dr. King says, “When you are in a moment of rage, you will use a weapon no matter how much you say you won’t.”

Pfleger said he understands the Second Amendment. “The NRA won’t touch guns because they work for gun manufacturers and the number one consumer of guns are criminals. So you stop criminals from getting guns? It’s bottom line money.  It’s all about business. The gun manufacturers and the NRA would rather let our children die than to lose their salaries. I say it’s time for the gun industry to have a recession.”

Referring to an Indiana gun event, Pfleger added, “It shows you the sickness of where our country is at. They are giving away guns as door prizes on Black Friday. The first 800 people will get certificates many will get free guns. We are going to give out bullets. We won’t give out food for hungry people, but we’ll give out guns because the NRA has bumped our heads so much to think we need a gun to be safe in America. The more guns the more unsafe we are,” Pfleger said.

His eyes passing over the red-cloth table, Pfleger said, “This table is just a visual of what all of these parents are realizing this Thanksgiving…these empty chairs, and I ask everybody sitting down at their Thanksgiving tables throughout this city this Thanksgiving to remember these parents.

“Remember parents are going to sit down and realize at their Thanksgiving table” their children are gone forever. “Pray for them. Pray for their strength. Pray for their healing, but after you get finished praying for them, after you get up from your Thanksgiving table, do something to stop this violence,” said Pfleger.

A number of parents who lost their children to gun violence gave their testimonies including Father Pfleger who also lost a son to gun warfare.

Pfleger adopted a son, Lamar, 8, in 1981 and a second son, Beronti, in 1992. In 1997, Pfleger became the foster father to Jarvis Franklin, 17, who on May 30, 1998 was caught in the crossfire of a gang fight and died. Pfleger told reporters his son’s killer has never been caught. Last year the Chicago Police Department’s Cold Case unit confirmed they would reopen the case.

Alice Norris’s daughter,  Rolanda LaKeisa Marshall, 14, was killed in 1993 in a drive-by shooting on the West Side. Her mother said Marshall had just graduated from grade school and was looking forward to her freshman year. “She was sitting in a restaurant. They shot up the restaurant and she was killed.”

Since her daughter’s death, Norris said she has been working with Father Pfleger and his anti-violence campaigns, the Illinois Handgun Against Violence, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and others “because it was very devastating to my family,” the mother said. “She is truly missed.”

Marshall was a “very gifted student. She was a straight ‘A’ student during grammar school. She had perfect attendance. She had been to the University of Illinois in their scholar’s program and the Northeastern in their gifted program.  She also attended the DuSable Museum’s gifted program. She was truly talented. She was a dancer, a singer, a cook, a teacher, a poet and a writer,” her mother recalled.

When asked what Thanksgiving means to her without her daughter, Norris said, “Usually, I can get through the holidays, but it’s usually the day after because I still have to be strong for my family.” She has two other children and is a grandmother. “I’m pretty strong on Thanksgiving, but it’s the day after Thanksgiving and after Christmas” that bother’s her.

“I have now lost a child. My husband and my mother have passed away so none of the holidays mean what they used to mean to us, but some how we get through them. My family is very supportive of me. It means that we have an empty chair at our table and some how some of the life leaves out because we all know there is an empty space not only my daughter” but for the others she lost.

“This gun violence and kids killing kids, I don’t understand it and never will in a million years. It seems like in our country these kids are expendable,” said Norris. She is opposed to the gun conceal bill. “We have stood toe-to-toe with the NRA and with the legislators we asks not to pass this bill.”

Tonya Burch testified about the murder of her son, Deontae Smith, 19. He was killed on August 1, 2009 at 61st and Green Streets.

Gloria Padron said her son, Anthony Padron, 15, was killed seven-years ago. “The case is still unsolved,” she said. “Please help us solve this case,” she said with tears flowing down her face.

Thomas Lee, the father of Thomas Lee II, 20, was shot on August 13, 2008. He died an hour later. His son was at a Harvey store. “He never had a confrontation with anyone. He never spoke to anyone. The police believed it was a car jacking. A man pulled a gun on my son. My son grabbed the gun. There was a tussle and my son got shot in the stomach. “He said the killer has never been caught.

Also attendance was another mother, Catherine Wriddley, who lost her nephew Leon Hammond was killed last year on the West Side, also lost two brothers who were gunned down in 1989 and 1992 also on the West Side. “Gun violence has been in our family for years,” she said.

To raise a child, Wriddley said, “it takes a village and the village is gone. We have to bring back the village mothers and the village aunties where we care about one another.”  “We have to learn to be givers as God has commissioned us to do. If we can’t give, we can’t receive….

“When we give love, then we can receive it, but love is what is missing in our equation today.  We want it. We think love is something you buy at the store, a pair of gym shoes…but we don’t see kids as being kids and loving them with an embrace and a hug. It’s trying times and we have to put some love where all the hate is and that is the only thing that” will bring peace to a society seemingly numb with the level of violence.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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