Father Pfleger: ‘We must break the code of silence’

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Don’t be a ‘co-conspirator’ to murder

By Chinta Strausberg


After watching the play entitled “Tangled” at the ETA Theater late Thursday night involving several fatal shootings, Father Michael L. Pfleger said the “Code of Silence” must be broken and redefined by identifying those who turn in shooters as “lifesavers” rather than “snitches” 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 “co-conspirators” to murder and that the blood of the victims are on their hands.

Pfleger’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: “Someone 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.” In Webster’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. “I believe that breaking the code of silence is understanding that when someone gives information, they are not a snitch. They’re a lifesaver. We have to start identifying people who speak up to save lives.”

“If you know somebody who did something, and you don’t say anything, then you’re a co-conspirator, and if somebody else gets shot or killed, the blood is on your hands,” Pfleger told the audience.

And to those who say they are afraid to inform on someone who broke the law, Pfleger said, “I have been told that I’m going to die and I’m getting killed so many times, but I’m still here.”

Speaking to people of all faiths including Muslims, Jews or Christians,  Pfleger added: “All 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 I’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?

“Because 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 let’s be His disciples in the street instead of being so afraid in the streets to speak out. We got to break that,” 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, “Nobody’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.

“I 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 McDonald’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,” said Pfleger.

In reviewing the play, he told the audience, that it is somewhat depressing in that “it’s so real…. It’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 he’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.

“What keeps resonating in me is the fact that it’s not whether we can stop this; it’s whether we will.” Referring to Clo, the matriarch of the funeral home who was portrayed by Felisha D. McNeal, Pfleger said, “The line I want to point out to you that struck me in this play was what are we going to do?

“I think we’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. There’s no quick fix to this. This thing did not happen over night, and it’s not going to end overnight, but it can end when we decide to have the will,” he said. “And, it’s everything and everybody. Nobody in this room gets a pass. The reality is it’s going to stop when we decide as a community, a city as a country to stop it.” “We all got to do more.”

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. “The 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 it’s going to stop when we decide we’re going to stop and we’re going to draw the line in the sand and say we’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.”

Referring to some people putting up bottles, candles, Teddy Bears, police tape “and other landmarks of our communities” at the scene of a crime, Pfleger said, “That has become just as bad as shaking our heads, closing our blinds, praying and saying ‘Oh, God, just take care of this.’ God’s done all He’s going to do. It’s up to us. He gave us everything we’ve got to do it with.”

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. “They looked at me like I was crazy,” 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, “Mike, I forgot my damn glasses. I ain’t see nothing.” He told her, “They don’t know that they can’t see. Pretend you can see and start writing down. The next I know she’s saying, “Move away, sir. I can’t see that license plate.” She’s writing down stuff and couldn’t see five feet in front her, but those three elders turned that block around in one week.”

“When we become free enough to not let our fears override our moral authority, when we decide as a group of people to say I’m only here for a moment…,whether I live until I’m 20 or until you’re 90 or 96 like my daddy, we’re here for a moment…(the question is) what are we going” to do with their time?

“That is what we’re going to be judged on, not whether we go to church…,” said Pfleger. “God 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, ‘you know what? This summer ain’t going to happen.

“We’re going to put our arms around our children. We’re going to talk to our neighbors. We’re going to come out of our houses, and we’re going to report everything we see because we’re not going to allow blood on our streets anymore…. I think it’s that simple when we decide that this community that we live in is what God gave us to watch over and we’re going to take it back,” 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, “Hello, Father Pfleger.” He also told of how he sent a message to the mayor that he was ticked off at the city’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, “We 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 it’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 hasn’t opened since.”

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.

“Everybody pulled out their cell phones taking pictures of this guy…. If we can get that upset on the North Side about a dog dying, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, when somebody gets shot out on the street, how come people aren’t pouring out on that street taking pictures”?

Referring to 16-year-old Derrion Albert who in 2009 was beaten to death near his high school during a mob attack, Pfleger said, “Derrion Albert’s people got caught because everybody was taking pictures…and they put those guys in prison and I’m saying the same thing has to happen out on the street….

“If a brother or sister on the street doing wrong things knew that people are going to come out and respond…, they’re going to think twice,” said Pfleger. “They are not afraid of the police, and they have no reason to be afraid of the community because we don’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 don’t do that shame on us because I’m going to fight….”

“We have to become aggressive and we have to become the first responders in our neighborhoods…,” he told the audience.

 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, “I 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 didn’t have anymore problems….”

Referring to gangbangers, Pfleger said, “Do you know how many folks have gotten killed innocently because they were coming after another member of that family. I’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 can’t come around this house anymore because you are not going to bring danger to everybody else who lives in this house.”

He said the 6-year-old girl who was killed Pfleger said “They were after a family member. We have to understand that these fools aren’t trained to shoot a gun. They just come to shoot, and they don’t even care if they get the person. If they can get a friend for a family member, they’ve made their point….” He said youth who are in the gangs must be banned from your home.

Jami Garton, who mentors with The Black Star Project’s, said, “our young boys what they’re doing right now are crying out and they’re using a weapon because they’re crying out. They don’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. It’s our responsibility to take back our families…to take back our communities, our neighborhoods….”

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 “because somebody brushed off his dreams that he already head.” He told the youth he could still do this….

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. King’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, “No Ma’am. I don’t have the kind of courage you have. Can you just tell me what you did and why,” he asked referring to the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

She said every day she got up and walked to that white family’s house where she worked. She took care of their kids but the man called her nothing but the “N” word. “Every night, I’d walk back home.” And, because of the boycott, Pfleger said the woman recalled how the white man would make her work late. “There 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 boycott…..”

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, “What made you do this and kept you doing this for 381-days”? She told Pfleger, “My faith in God and because it was just right.”

“We 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 we’re going to get a grant not because somebody is going to pay us.

Pfleger said, “It’s like that woman said, we have to answer to a God and number two because it’s just right. It’s time for us as a community to say, we’re going to do it because it’s right and we’re going to stop it; so plays like this are fiction and not real.”

Referring to Clo in the play, Pfleger said,” When Clo decided she was going to do something different, she didn’t need a drink that night.” He said we all have to play a role in taking back our communities and ending the “Code of Silence” is a good start.

The play, “Tangled,” will run through Sunday, May 19, 2012, at the ETA Creative Arts, 7558 S.  South Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60619, featuring Ameena Matthews, activist and star of “The Interrupters.” 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.

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