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, â€œunable to attend, victim of gun violence,â€ 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 Stateâ€™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.Â Â With tears rolling down her face, Nance-Holt said, â€œIt doesnâ€™t get any easierâ€ as the years go by. â€œI wish I could bring their children back as well as my own so we wouldnâ€™t have to deal with this but that wouldnâ€™t be.
â€œFamilies in Chicago, across the United States will have empty chairs sitting at the table,â€ she said breaking down in tears. â€œOur children just did notâ€ die from natural causes or terminal or brief illnesses. â€œThey were murdered,â€ she said. â€œThey were children and deserved to live a full life.â€ Instead, parents of murdered children will have to stare at empty chairs this Thanksgiving.
Bosley spoke of the number of unsolved cases â€œbecause people are not snitching. They are not telling what is going on.â€ Her son was shot in 2006 while coming out of church.Â Â â€œMy son stumbled back in church and nobody said anything,â€ 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 â€œCode of Silenceâ€ that allows murders to get away with their crimes.
â€œItâ€™s time for us to take a stand,â€ Bosley said referring to years ago when she said,Â â€œwe had nosey neighbors. We need that to come back. We have to tellâ€ 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.
â€œWe 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,â€ said Pfleger.Â Â â€œI donâ€™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, weâ€™re never going to stop this violence.â€
Pleger said 30,000 people a year are killed in America by gun violence. â€œThat should be a shame and a scandal to our country.â€ Referring to the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pfleger said â€œover 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 fieldsâ€¦and reached the balcony.
â€œWhy are assault weapons not banned in America? Why are assault weapons still allowed in this country? We canâ€™t stop talking about guns? We must stop easy access to guns in America and we must ban assault weapons in Americaâ€¦.â€
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 driverâ€™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, â€œWe must come together and make sure this legislation does not pass out of the Senate.â€ â€œWe urged everybody to reach out to Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and ask them to vote â€˜no.â€™â€ 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, â€œThat seems like the only thing they care about in America is defense. We donâ€™t care about violence. We donâ€™t care about poor peopleâ€¦. We donâ€™t care about people sleeping under bridges, but boy you talk about defense and everybody rallies around it. â€œWell, weâ€™re talking about defense about our children,â€ Pfleger told reporters. â€œ
â€œI donâ€™t hear anybody talking about guns not from the White House all the way down to the City Council,â€ Pfleger said earlier mentioning he has not heard of this topic since former Mayor Richard M. Daley left office. â€œWe need police. We hear about more security cameras and thatâ€™s great. We need more security cameras, but if you have a gun, youâ€™re going to use it.â€
Pfleger wants everyone to speak about against guns including the President all the way down to city government. â€œOur children are dying in our streets. We should be speaking about guns and Iâ€™m wondering why the silence. Are we so damn afraid of the NRA in America? To hell with the NRA,â€ he said.
When he met last week with a group of high school students, he asked them how many could get a gun today. â€œEvery single one of them said they could get them today. Some kids canâ€™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, â€œWhen you are in a moment of rage, you will use a weapon no matter how much you say you wonâ€™t.â€
Pfleger said he understands the Second Amendment. â€œThe NRA wonâ€™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? Itâ€™s bottom line money.Â Â Itâ€™s all about business. The gun manufacturers and the NRA would rather let our children die than to lose their salaries. I say itâ€™s time for the gun industry to have a recession.â€
Referring to an Indiana gun event, Pfleger added, â€œIt 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 wonâ€™t give out food for hungry people, but weâ€™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,â€ Pfleger said.
His eyes passing over the red-cloth table, Pfleger said, â€œThis table is just a visual of what all of these parents are realizing this Thanksgivingâ€¦these empty chairs, and I ask everybody sitting down at their Thanksgiving tables throughout this city this Thanksgiving to remember these parents.
â€œRemember parents are going to sit down and realize at their Thanksgiving tableâ€ their children are gone forever. â€œPray 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,â€ 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 sonâ€™s killer has never been caught. Last year the Chicago Police Departmentâ€™s Cold Case unit confirmed they would reopen the case.
Alice Norrisâ€™s daughter,Â Â 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. â€œShe was sitting in a restaurant. They shot up the restaurant and she was killed.â€
Since her daughterâ€™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 â€œbecause it was very devastating to my family,â€ the mother said. â€œShe is truly missed.â€
Marshall was a â€œvery gifted student. She was a straight â€˜Aâ€™ student during grammar school. She had perfect attendance. She had been to the University of Illinois in their scholarâ€™s program and the Northeastern in their gifted program.Â Â She also attended the DuSable Museumâ€™s gifted program. She was truly talented. She was a dancer, a singer, a cook, a teacher, a poet and a writer,â€ her mother recalled.
When asked what Thanksgiving means to her without her daughter, Norris said, â€œUsually, I can get through the holidays, but itâ€™s usually the day after because I still have to be strong for my family.â€ She has two other children and is a grandmother. â€œIâ€™m pretty strong on Thanksgiving, but itâ€™s the day after Thanksgiving and after Christmasâ€ that botherâ€™s her.
â€œI 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 daughterâ€ but for the others she lost.
â€œThis gun violence and kids killing kids, I donâ€™t understand it and never will in a million years. It seems like in our country these kids are expendable,â€ said Norris. She is opposed to the gun conceal bill. â€œWe have stood toe-to-toe with the NRA and with the legislators we asks not to pass this bill.â€
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. â€œThe case is still unsolved,â€ she said. â€œPlease help us solve this case,â€ 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. â€œHe 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. â€œHe 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. â€œGun violence has been in our family for years,â€ she said.
To raise a child, Wriddley said, â€œit 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.â€Â Â â€œWe have to learn to be givers as God has commissioned us to do. If we canâ€™t give, we canâ€™t receiveâ€¦.
â€œWhen we give love, then we can receive it, but love is what is missing in our equation today.Â Â We want it. We think love is something you buy at the store, a pair of gym shoesâ€¦but we donâ€™t see kids as being kids and loving them with an embrace and a hug. Itâ€™s trying times and we have to put some love where all the hate is and that is the only thing thatâ€ 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.