It was a beautiful summer morning, a perfect day for a march down the Dan Ryan. Father Michael Pfleger called for a march to stop the violence and to point to a lack of resources in the Black communities on the South and West sides.
He was focused, he was determined, and he was serious. He didn’t care who was with him or who wasn’t; he was marching with the goal to shut the Dan Ryan Expressway down from 79th and State Street to 67th Street.
He at first thought 1,000 people would participate; then with all of the publicity, he thought about 3,000 would come. He was wrong. The estimates at this point are that between 10,000 to 15,000 people showed up for the march. They came and they kept coming. The march was breaking news on television as the helicopters flew overhead. There was absolutely no chaos as Governor Rauner suggested.
Father Pfleger was in charge. I joined the marchers as we gathered in a vacant lot on 79th Street. It was a mixed and wonderful crowd. People had homemade signs, flags, bongo drums, horns and banners. We prayed. Pfleger reminded all that this was a nonviolent march and that no mater what happened, it would remain a nonviolent march.
Then Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed. He said we might get arrested, but under no uncertain terms should we resist. He asked if people were ready to go to jail and the crowd said yes. Then we marched slowly and entered the Dan Ryan at the 79th Street ramp. There was order and a lot of people.
The policemen were kind and gracious. A commander came over and said we will have a nice march today. He shook our hands. When we entered the expressway, there were trucks and buses from the criminal justice system lined up. The policemen were lined up with their bikes. This is the way law enforcement was providing safety.
The march began at about 10:15. Congressman Danny Davis was there, but there were really very few politicians on hand. Father Pfleger insisted that the teens and young people lead the march and the pastors followed. That was the only “order” given.
The media presence was enormous. There were writers, photographers and social media people all around. Some of the press was in front of the line capturing the moment. International press covered the march, asking people along the way why they were there.
The media was most interested in talking to those who have been victims of the violence. Many of the marchers had pictures of their deceased children, photo t-shirts, or carried their children in picture frames.
I talked to a few of them and cried as they told the tragic stories of their children’s deaths. There was a lady in a wheelchair that marched. She was a minister. She wore a pretty white dress as she was pushed through the crowd.
A Sudden Impasse
Suddenly the march halted. Father Pfleger and Rev. Jackson and others were talking to the Illinois State Police Director, Mr. Leo Schmitz, about shutting down all of the lanes instead of the two right-hand lanes that had been allocated for the march.
Mr. Schmitz was not having it. He spoke about how they had worked it out and the agreement was to walk along the shoulder of the expressway. Father Pfleger said that was a lie and that he had not agreed to anything.
So the march temporarily halted and while it did, people were orderly. The drums played and a chant started, “Shut it down, Shut it down.” But the people were happy, talking and being jovial on a pretty day in Chicago waiting for the march to resume.
I was walking with Lori Lightfoot, the candidate for mayor. She broke away as she saw Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on the sidelines. She asked him to open all the lanes of the expressway to the marchers. It appeared that Johnson worked it out with the Illinois State Police, which has jurisdiction over the city’s expressways.
The lanes opened and then Supt. Johnson joined the march, in between Rev. Jackson and Father Pfleger. The state trucks moved and the buses moved and the lanes opened and the crowd roared.
Father Pfleger was insistent and persistent that the Dan Ryan Expressway would shut down. He said that’s what we came to do. Shut it down. Rev. Jackson was trying to get arrested, but I kept saying Rev, they are not going to arrest you; this is an election year.
So the march continued. People on the overpasses were waving, shouting shut it down. The best thing I saw was the train along the expressway halt with the conductor and passengers giving thumbs up.
Saturday morning of July 7 was a great day in the neighborhood. On that bright sunny day, people in the community shut down the Dan Ryan. We called attention to the problem of violence in our community and a lack of resources. We called attention to the issue of Chicago being two cities, one white and one Black.
The community came together and marched with Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina. He was correct. Now we have to see what happens and what the next steps are. But I think a political statement was made.
As Rev. Jackson was getting in his car, a little boy about eight years old ran through the crowd. He said he wanted to shake Jackson’s hand. He did. And then he said, “Thank you Rev. Jackson, not for just this march but all of the others. This is my first march, but you’ve marched before.”
Jackson was watching the little boy intently. Then the young lad said, “I watch you on TV and you are sort of like my dad, you know, like a real role model.” Rev. Jackson looked at me and said, “That’s the real reason why we march.”
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