Donâ€™t be a â€˜co-conspiratorâ€™ to murder
By Chinta Strausberg
After watching the play entitled â€œTangledâ€ at the ETA Theater late Thursday night involving several fatal shootings, Father Michael L. Pfleger said the â€œCode of Silenceâ€ must be broken and redefined by identifying those who turn in shooters as â€œlifesaversâ€ rather than â€œsnitchesâ€ who are viewed as traitors.
And for those who honor the street code and remain silent when they know the names of the shooters or killers, Pfleger said they are â€œco-conspiratorsâ€ to murder and that the blood of the victims are on their hands.
Pflegerâ€™s remarks stunned some of those who attended the play that depicts the affects of gun violence on a female-owned funeral home that was written by Nicole Anderson-Cobb and directed by Kamesha Khan.
In the Urban Dictionary, a snitch is defined as: â€œSomeone who gives up incriminating evidence to people they have no business talking to in the first place. Some snitch because they need attention others snitch because they are scared.â€ In Websterâ€™s dictionary, snitch means an informer.
When asked how does one break the code of silence that gives cover to killers, Pfleger has his own definition and one he hopes will become acceptable citywide. â€œI believe that breaking the code of silence is understanding that when someone gives information, they are not a snitch. Theyâ€™re a lifesaver. We have to start identifying people who speak up to save lives.â€
â€œIf you know somebody who did something, and you donâ€™t say anything, then youâ€™re a co-conspirator, and if somebody else gets shot or killed, the blood is on your hands,â€ Pfleger told the audience.
And to those who say they are afraid to inform on someone who broke the law, Pfleger said, â€œI have been told that Iâ€™m going to die and Iâ€™m getting killed so many times, but Iâ€™m still here.â€
Speaking to people of all faiths including Muslims, Jews or Christians,Â Pfleger added: â€œAll of us believe in those three faiths that God is Almighty, God is all powerful whether it is the Torah, the Koran or the bible, but Iâ€™m trying to figure out we believe that then go out in the street and be afraid. Then is God a fake, or are we fools?
â€œBecause if God is God and who we say He is, otherwise stop going to the temple, the synagogue, the church. If we really believe in God, then letâ€™s be His disciples in the street instead of being so afraid in the streets to speak out. We got to break that,â€ he said.
Referring to his foster son, Jarvis Franklin who was killed May 30, 1998 at 79th and Carpenter eight-days after his 49th birthday and on the day when he has just conducted a wedding, Pfleger said, â€œNobodyâ€™s ever been caught for that because nobody would ever talk. It happened at 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. There were over 40 people there. That is when I then made my decision for the rest of my breath that I was going to fight against this violence.
â€œI do not believe in prisons. I hate prisons, but if you shoot and kill, you got to go to prison. You cannot shoot and kill, go to McDonaldâ€™s, go home, kick your feet up and watch TV like nothing happened. No, that was a life and we have to make sure that we value lives in our community,â€ said Pfleger.
In reviewing the play, he told the audience, that it is somewhat depressing in that â€œitâ€™s so realâ€¦. Itâ€™s the reality that is all around us. This morning, I sat with a young man who witnessed a killing who wants to tell, but heâ€™s afraid. He saw his friend shot down before his eyes. I sat with a mother and a father whose child was killed who want help to find the murderers.
â€œWhat keeps resonating in me is the fact that itâ€™s not whether we can stop this; itâ€™s whether we will.â€ Referring to Clo, the matriarch of the funeral home who was portrayed by Felisha D. McNeal, Pfleger said, â€œThe line I want to point out to you that struck me in this play was what are we going to do?
â€œI think weâ€™ve got caught up in the danger in our society of trying to get a quick fix like parents got to do it. We need more police. Bring in the National Guard. Thereâ€™s no quick fix to this. This thing did not happen over night, and itâ€™s not going to end overnight, but it can end when we decide to have the will,â€ he said. â€œAnd, itâ€™s everything and everybody. Nobody in this room gets a pass. The reality is itâ€™s going to stop when we decide as a community, a city as a country to stop it.â€ â€œWe all got to do more.â€
Referring to the young man he counseled this morning who had witnessed a murder, Pfleger said he was afraid to talk fearing his own death. â€œThe reality was this happened in the middle of the day with 30 or 40 people around. If there were 20 people telling, no one person would be afraid. We have this fear because if one steps forward other people will be silent, sit back and that person becomes a target. My challenge is itâ€™s going to stop when we decide weâ€™re going to stop and weâ€™re going to draw the line in the sand and say weâ€™re tired of children dying and stop adjusting to what has become sick and dysfunctional. The village has become sick, and we got to fix the village so we can raise the children and that is our task. That is deciding what we can all do and how each one of us can get involved.â€
Referring to some people putting up bottles, candles, Teddy Bears, police tape â€œand other landmarks of our communitiesâ€ at the scene of a crime, Pfleger said, â€œThat has become just as bad as shaking our heads, closing our blinds, praying and saying â€˜Oh, God, just take care of this.â€™ Godâ€™s done all Heâ€™s going to do. Itâ€™s up to us. He gave us everything weâ€™ve got to do it with.â€
Before asking the audience what would they do to stem the violence in the community, Pfleger told of how one time he received calls from some residents to help them stop the drug dealing He asked the person to have at least ten people come. About 15 people showed up for the meeting. After asking what time does drug dealing go on which happened at night, Pfleger called for a meeting on a Friday night?
He told them to bring lawn chairs and they would sit on the block. â€œThey looked at me like I was crazy,â€ said Pfleger. He said a 76-year-old woman said she would go. A man about 82, another man 80 and a 72-year-old woman volunteered. Everyone else was silent. He told them to bring a chair, paper and a pen or pencil and to take notes including license plate numbers.
Pfleger said there was one lady who leaned over and whispered, â€œMike, I forgot my damn glasses. I ainâ€™t see nothing.â€ He told her, â€œThey donâ€™t know that they canâ€™t see. Pretend you can see and start writing down. The next I know sheâ€™s saying, â€œMove away, sir. I canâ€™t see that license plate.â€ Sheâ€™s writing down stuff and couldnâ€™t see five feet in front her, but those three elders turned that block around in one week.â€
â€œWhen we become free enough to not let our fears override our moral authority, when we decide as a group of people to say Iâ€™m only here for a momentâ€¦,whether I live until Iâ€™m 20 or until youâ€™re 90 or 96 like my daddy, weâ€™re here for a momentâ€¦(the question is) what are we goingâ€ to do with their time?
â€œThat is what weâ€™re going to be judged on, not whether we go to churchâ€¦,â€ said Pfleger. â€œGod is going to look at us and say what did you do with the breath I gave you. We can stop this. Three old folks stopped it on their block. Imagine if the community decides to say, â€˜you know what? This summer ainâ€™t going to happen.
â€œWeâ€™re going to put our arms around our children. Weâ€™re going to talk to our neighbors. Weâ€™re going to come out of our houses, and weâ€™re going to report everything we see because weâ€™re not going to allow blood on our streets anymoreâ€¦. I think itâ€™s that simple when we decide that this community that we live in is what God gave us to watch over and weâ€™re going to take it back,â€ said Pfleger.
He told the audience of how he complains all the time including calling 911 to the point where when the operator answers, she says, â€œHello, Father Pfleger.â€ He also told of how he sent a message to the mayor that he was ticked off at the cityâ€™s response to this violence. He asked the mayor for tools to shut down some of these stores where gangbangers hang out.
Referring to the store located in the 1400 block on West 79th Street where six people were shot where one died and five were wounded, Pfleger said, â€œWe closed it down and told the guy if you open it back up, I will come in here and drive a truck through your damn store because itâ€™s nothing but a problem. He tried to open it up one day and we went over there and told him to close it down and it hasnâ€™t opened since.â€
Pfleger told about the small dog, an 8-pound Pomeranian that ultimately died, that was killed by a Pit Bull. The owner walked away; however, neighbors took pictures of him with his dog and it turns out the owner was an off-duty Chicago police officer.
â€œEverybody pulled out their cell phones taking pictures of this guyâ€¦. If we can get that upset on the North Side about a dog dying, and Iâ€™m not saying we shouldnâ€™t, when somebody gets shot out on the street, how come people arenâ€™t pouring out on that street taking picturesâ€?
Referring to 16-year-old Derrion Albert who in 2009 was beaten to death near his high school during a mob attack, Pfleger said, â€œDerrion Albertâ€™s people got caught because everybody was taking picturesâ€¦and they put those guys in prison and Iâ€™m saying the same thing has to happen out on the streetâ€¦.
â€œIf a brother or sister on the street doing wrong things knew that people are going to come out and respondâ€¦, theyâ€™re going to think twice,â€ said Pfleger. â€œThey are not afraid of the police, and they have no reason to be afraid of the community because we donâ€™t react and say this is not going to happen. When people respond, they say this is not a good location. We have to go some place else. We have to put pressure on people for programs and the money and if we donâ€™t do that shame on us because Iâ€™m going to fightâ€¦.â€
â€œWe have to become aggressive and we have to become the first responders in our neighborhoodsâ€¦,â€ he told the audience.
Â He opened up the discussion with the audience asking them what can or what are they doing to stem the violence. One woman heard shooting and she said, â€œI made up my mind that I am not going to walk around and be afraid. The next morning, some of the older guys rode around the neighborhood on their bicycles and we didnâ€™t have anymore problemsâ€¦.â€
Referring to gangbangers, Pfleger said, â€œDo you know how many folks have gotten killed innocently because they were coming after another member of that family. Iâ€™ve told some folks in my church, if you got an uncle, cousin or son in the gang, you make the decision if this is what you want to live with and who you want to be with and put yourself in that risk, fine, but you canâ€™t come around this house anymore because you are not going to bring danger to everybody else who lives in this house.â€
He said the 6-year-old girl who was killed Pfleger said â€œThey were after a family member. We have to understand that these fools arenâ€™t trained to shoot a gun. They just come to shoot, and they donâ€™t even care if they get the person. If they can get a friend for a family member, theyâ€™ve made their pointâ€¦.â€ He said youth who are in the gangs must be banned from your home.
Jami Garton, who mentors with The Black Star Projectâ€™s, said, â€œour young boys what theyâ€™re doing right now are crying out and theyâ€™re using a weapon because theyâ€™re crying out. They donâ€™t have the older men in our neighborhoods in their families that are reaching out to these young boys. They are not gangsters. They are not thugs. They are crying out for help. Itâ€™s our responsibility to take back our familiesâ€¦to take back our communities, our neighborhoodsâ€¦.â€
Pfleger urged parents and neighbors to take youth out of their neighborhoods and to expose them to other environments. He told of counseling one 18-year-old boy who was crying. He wanted to die. He had run away from home and was afraid of getting hot.
When asked what did he want to be, the boy said he wants to be a fireman. Pfleger took him to a nearby firehouse and an African American fireman spent 25-minutes talking to him. Pfleger said that gave this youth the hope he needed and he talked to his mother who let him back into her home â€œbecause somebody brushed off his dreams that he already head.â€ He told the youth he could still do thisâ€¦.
Pfleger told a story about meeting an African American woman, who was one of a group of blacks who had worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Kingâ€™s son asked Pfleger to come and speak. Pfleger went over to the table of the Montgomery Improvement Association and knelt next to this woman and asked if he could talk to her.
When she told him to sit down, Pfleger told her, â€œNo Ma’am. I donâ€™t have the kind of courage you have. Can you just tell me what you did and why,â€ he asked referring to the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.
She said every day she got up and walked to that white familyâ€™s house where she worked. She took care of their kids but the man called her nothing but the â€œNâ€ word. â€œEvery night, Iâ€™d walk back home.â€ And, because of the boycott, Pfleger said the woman recalled how the white man would make her work late. â€œThere would be young people who would try to scare us, call us names and say they were going to kill us to get us to break the boycottâ€¦..â€
Pfleger said the woman walked home and sat up all night with her feet in a bowl to bring the swelling down so I could put my shoes back on in the morning and walk to his house and do the same thing. He asked her, â€œWhat made you do this and kept you doing this for 381-daysâ€? She told Pfleger, â€œMy faith in God and because it was just right.â€
â€œWe have to talk to our children. We got to put pressure on the alderman. We have to close down bad stores. We have to run people out of our neighborhoods who are doing bad things and selling bad stuff. We have to do all of that not because weâ€™re going to get a grant not because somebody is going to pay us.
Pfleger said, â€œItâ€™s like that woman said, we have to answer to a God and number two because itâ€™s just right. Itâ€™s time for us as a community to say, weâ€™re going to do it because itâ€™s right and weâ€™re going to stop it; so plays like this are fiction and not real.â€
Referring to Clo in the play, Pfleger said,â€ When Clo decided she was going to do something different, she didnâ€™t need a drink that night.â€ He said we all have to play a role in taking back our communities and ending the â€œCode of Silenceâ€ is a good start.
The play, â€œTangled,â€ will run through Sunday, May 19, 2012, at the ETA Creative Arts, 7558 S.Â South Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60619, featuring Ameena Matthews, activist and star of â€œThe Interrupters.â€ The play begins at 8 p.m.
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.