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Pfleger Urges Residents to 'Occupy the Streets' in 'War of Peace'

By Quinn Ford | June 22, 2013 9:29am
 Rev. Michael Pfleger held a peace rally and march Friday night in Auburn Gresham aimed at reducing violence in Chicago this summer.
'Occupy the Streets'
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AUBURN GRESHAM — After a violent Father's Day weekend, hundreds of people filled the streets outside St. Sabina Church Friday evening to launch a "war of peace."

The Occupy the Street rally came as school ends for Chicago Public School students and summer officially begins, a time of the year that typically sees an uptick in murders across the city.

Rev. Michael Pfleger, who organized the rally, said Friday although this year has seen fewer shootings than the same period in 2012, "we are not ready to raise a flag of victory in Chicago yet."

The crowd was nearly silent as names were read of young people who were killed during this past school year, names that included Cornelius German, Jonylah Watkins and Hadiya Pendleton.

As the names were read, parents of murdered sons and daughters stood holding pictures or wearing T-shirts to commemorate their loved ones. As the march was in full swing, a man was shot to death in Logan Square, one of three people killed in gun violence Friday.

Afterwards, Pfleger told the crowd each community members must take personal responsibility to prevent violence in their neighborhoods.

"We cannot wait for law enforcement or for government," he said. "We must run our blocks. We must run our neighborhoods. We must occupy the streets."

Pfleger said that means having "zero tolerance" for those who choose to shoot and kill, but he said it also includes reaching out to gang members and not "demonizing them."

Englewood resident Katrina Peppers was one of many mothers in the crowd who had lost a child to violence. She said her son, Robert Peppers, was shot and killed in Cabrini-Green in 2005.

And she said she feels little has changed since her son's death.

"Just over the past week, I have had two close friends who've had sons to get killed, so I'm here to do whatever," Peppers said. "We need to stop this."

Other community and faith leaders joined Pfleger Friday, as well as local politicians, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's wife Amy Rule and Hadiya Pendleton's parents.

Rev. Jeanette Wilson, of Rainbow PUSH, said Friday's rally was a call to action that could "save the lives of our children and our families" this summer.

"We're saying to parents, we can control our homes. All of these children have a parent somewhere, those who shoot and those who are shot," Wilson said.

As usual, the speakers did not tout any one approach they believed would solve the city's violence problem. Instead, they said communities must take aim at the causes that create an "atmosphere of violence."

Pfleger said some of those causes include poor education, broken homes, proliferation of guns and high unemployment.

Michael Green, 18, said Friday he does not have to worry about at least one of those issues.

Green said he came to the rally Friday looking for a job. He said he had just graduated from Dunbar High School on Monday and had heard St. Sabina's may be hiring.

Green said he was "hired on the spot" at the rally. He said it felt good knowing he had a way to make money for the summer.

As for the rally, Green smiled and said he was happy to come out and "support my people."

"It's good to get everybody out here to stop the violence because there's definitely too much of it going on, but man, I don't want to be no hypocrite or anything, I've been part of this problem," Green said.

He too said there has been multiple shootings near his Englewood home in the past week alone.

"It's hectic out here man," he said. "I'm too used to it."