On this much police and activist South Side priest Michael Pfleger can agree: Saturday morning’s anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway is all about danger.
Pfleger — and perhaps hundreds of others — plan to shut down traffic on the expressway to send a message: Elected leaders must fix neighborhood schools and create better job prospects to supplant the violence plaguing some pockets of the city. In 2016, gun violence reached levels that had not been seen in 20 years, according to data kept by the Tribune. And while the number of shootings victims has decreased since then, it’s still higher than 2015 and 2014.
“We’re still on target to go,” Pfleger told the Tribune Thursday. “I can’t predict anything right now, but we’re taking a page from the civil rights movement. When nothing else was working, civil disobedience is what eventually made authorities and the government listen.”
Law enforcement officials have asked Pfleger to reconsider, saying the protesters are putting their lives on the line by walking onto a busy expressway. In fact, Illinois State police troopers, who have jurisdiction over Chicago expressways, will try to stop protesters from getting on the Dan Ryan — and arrests will be made, if necessary.
“If people break the law, we may have to arrest people. But that’s not what our goal is here,” Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz said at a news conference earlier this week, adding: “Our goal is to save lives, whether it be the young children or people in the city or motorists. We just don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Bucking the wishes of his own police department and the Illinois State Police, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday that he supports allowing protesters — led by the Rev. Michael Pfleger —onto the Dan Ryan Expressway on Saturday, as part of what’s expected to be a significant anti-violence march.
Emanuel said he believes the march will raise awareness of anti-violence efforts.
– Chicago Sun-Times
Pfleger and other protesters are demanding sit-down meetings with Gov. Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other elected officials — along with those running for office — to discuss solutions to gun violence.
But will the protest lead to change, or just to protest fatigue? Here are five things to know ahead of Saturday’s protest.
This isn’t the first time protesters have shut down traffic
This isn’t the first time protesters have shut down a major roadway in Chicago and beyond.
In recent years, Black Lives Matter activists have halted traffic in cities to draw attention to police-involved shootings, said Pamela Oliver, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She has followed news reports of the BLM protests on expressways and highways, a tactic used more and more to bring attention to their cause.
In July 2016, protesters marched on the southbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway for an estimated five to 10 minutes in response to the deaths of two African-American men who were killed during confrontations with police in Minnesota and Louisiana. Last year, activists and homeless protesters briefly halted traffic on Lake Shore Drive to protest the city’s decision to clear viaducts in Uptown. There also were a few Lake Shore Drive shutdowns by protesters after grand juries decided not to indict police officers in the police shootings of men in New York and Ferguson, Mo.
This is one way to bring attention to a problem ‘not being properly addressed’
Aldon Morris, a professor of sociology and African-American studies at Northwestern University, said shutting down a highway is a classic nonviolent, civil disobedience type of protest. He pointed out that Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders shut down entire cities to draw attention to the plight of African-Americans.
“It’s supposed to cause a crisis so that business as usual is disrupted,” Morris said. “So that attention could be brought to an issue, a problem that is not being properly addressed.”
During the civil rights era, acts of civil disobedience created a crisis that then led to activists getting power, Morris said.
“The only way that they can generate power was to create a crisis in the community where the authorities had to pay attention and negotiate with the protesters to bring about change,” Morris said. “And this (Saturday’s protest) is what it’s about.”
Pfleger said his decision to shut down the Dan Ryan was inspired not only to make a statement about stopping violence, but also by a variety of movements including those pushing for immigration reform and the teacher’s union in Chicago.
The University of Wisconsin’s Oliver said the expressway shutdown will generate attention, but getting the group’s long-term demands met will mean navigating the politics of who controls funding in the neighborhoods.
At a news conference this week, Pfleger said the group does outreach to victims and perpetrators of violence. But they feel they need to look at the system that creates it, which is why they plan to take such a drastic measure.
The other side: Another protest may create fatigue
Oliver said there has been a wave of protests for various causes that predate U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency. She does worry that all of the causes competing for attention will lead to some sort of protest fatigue.
However, she thinks the protesters are evolving as the causes evolve. For example, she suspects some of the BLM activists are part of the movement to change the country’s gun laws.
But whatever people think of the protest, Morris said motorists on the Dan Ryan Expressway this weekend will have to confront the issue the activists want to bring to the forefront.
READ MORE: As state police warn of arrests, a defiant Rev. Pfleger moves ahead with planned Saturday march, shutdown of Dan Ryan »
“Should they be angry about being inconvenienced (on) the Dan Ryan or babies being shot down in the street?” Morris asked.
Protesters are already preparing for the next action, depending on what happens Saturday.
“The young people have said that if they refuse to meet or if there is no plan put together on this that there will be another direct action to follow,” said Pfleger.
If you go, you may be arrested
Illinois State Police issued a statement this week warning activists that anyone who tries to enter the expressway “could be placed under arrest and charged with Criminal Trespassing to State Supported Property, as well as other potential violations.”
During a news conference, Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz said his agency wasn’t looking to arrest people, but troopers would try to physically prevent anyone from walking onto the Dan Ryan.
JOHN KASS: Father Mike’s shutdown of Dan Ryan aimed directly at Mayor Emanuel »
The Chicago Police Department estimates it would have to deploy about 200 officers to assist in controlling the crowd, said Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the department. He said Chicago police support raising awareness for gun violence, but the protest as planned presents logistical challenges.
“Closing things around the Daley Plaza are more conducive than closing an entire expressway,” Guglielmi said.
Here’s what you need to know if you go, get arrested — or want to avoid it
The protest will start at 10 a.m. Saturday on the northbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway near 79th Street and will continue to 67th Street. If you need to be somewhere else during that time, best to avoid that roadway.
Pfleger said St. Sabina Church, his home parish, will be sending seven busloads of people to the protest and, as of Thursday, was organizing an eighth.
He has fielded calls from Chicago area attorneys who say they’ll be glad to help those arrested.
“Ever since the state police put out the press release that they would arrest people, we’ve gotten an enormous amount of attorneys and law firms that have said they would be available and on hand if any arrests take place,” said Pfleger.
“The next move is in the hands of the government and elected officials. What happens next is in their hands, not ours,” Pfleger added.
Chicago Tribune’s Peter Nickeas contributed.
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