Thousands of gun control supporters march on Chicago highway
Demonstrators plan to shut down Dan Ryan Expressway in protest against gun violence, which killed 600 people in the city last year
Thousands of Chicago protesters are marching on a major freeway on Saturday to oppose gun violence and call for stronger gun laws.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s police superintendent have voiced support for the protest, which is led by the Rev Michael Pfleger, the charismatic Catholic priest heading a largely African American church in one of the South Side neighborhoods hard-hit by gang violence.
Illinois state police have jurisdiction over the Dan Ryan Expressway, and had threatened to arrest anyone who steps on to the entry ramp.
Protestors were allowed onto several lanes of road on Saturday morning as corrections department bus waited alongside. Protestors chanted closed it down.
Daniel Blalock, 35, said he was willing to get arrested.
I didn’t come here planning to go home. I want peace, merely peace. It’s going to take a long time but this is the first step.
The civil right reformer Rev Jesse Jackson shook hands with state police that stood between protesters and moving traffic.
Shortly before the marching began on Saturday morning, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner used to say Pfleger and other organizers had agreed to limit their demonstration to the highway shoulder, without taking over the road. In a tweet, Pfleger called the assertion a LIE and said the protest would go on as planned.
Protesters said they hope the march pushes public officials to pass stronger gun control laws and address the underlying causes of firearm violence in Chicago.
If Governor Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel can meet in secret to decide to give Amazon a billion dollars, referring to officials attempts to lure the company to Chicago, they can meet and decide to do something about not only gun violence but inequality, said lawyer Eric Martin White, 50, carrying an American flag.
I’m hoping that this is just a little spark that encourages people to continue to lift their voices and demand a redress of grievances, he said.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, Chicago’s top Catholic leader, released a statement on Friday praising the protesters, saying: I encourage them to be bold and undaunted in pressing their case and procuring real change to have the peace and security they have every right to expect.
Pfleger and his parishioners are calling for commonsense firearm laws and for city and state officials to meet with them to talk about what they see as the root causes of the city’s notorious firearm violence: poverty, lack of jobs, subpar or shuttered schools for largely African American residents on the city’s South and West sides.
Last year more than 3,000 people were shot in Chicago, more than 600 of them fatally.
There have long been frequent neighborhood protests and events against gun violence in Chicago, including processions, midnight basketball games to provide positive alternatives for youth, and block parties to reclaim public space from gangs.
While Chicago’s almost entirely Democratic elected officials generally support gun control, Saturdays planned march has furthermore drawn criticism. Many have complained about the traffic it will create for weekend travelers, while one African American pastor has accused Pfleger, who is white, of grandstanding and trying to play Tarzan in the black community.
Pfleger has pointed out that the freeways are periodically closed for presidential visits and other reasons. Jackson was quoted in the Chicago Tribunesaying, Stopping traffic is less damaging than the shooting and the killing and the jailing.
On Thursday night, Chicago police apprehended 106 people and confiscated large quantities of drugs in what the police superintendent described as an effort to crack down on handgun violence and see prosecution of recur handgun offenders.