Anti-violence protesters to shut down Chicago freeway

CHICAGO – Protesters plan to shut down a major Chicago interstate on Saturday in an attempt to increase the pressure on the officials to the gun violence that claimed hundreds of lives in some of the poorest neighborhoods.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of people, including the clergy, the inhabitants and the leaders of the community, was expected to join the march along a stretch of Interstate 94 is known as the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Illinois State Police, who warned earlier this week that a pedestrian entering the highway would face arrest, said Saturday that the protesters would be allowed to march. The state and the police of Chicago, along with Illinois Department of Transportation staff will provide a “safety barrier” between motorists and protesters.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-violence activist on the city’s South side, which will lead Saturday’s march, said that the protesters carry a banner with a list of requirements. They are: more resources, jobs, better schools and stronger gun laws — things Pfleger says that they have been seeking for years.

“If people continue to ignore you, you take it up a notch,” Pfleger said. “We will continue to take it up a notch until we get the reactions.”

There is a historical significance to marching along the Dan Ryan Expressway — a road some believe that was built in the beginning of the 1960s to separate white communities and poor black. On the west side of the new interstate was Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox and neighborhoods such as Bridgeport, the home of the former Mayor Richard J. Daley and his clan. To the east rose the Robert Taylor Homes, a high-rise public housing complex that was notorious for its violence.

It was the kind of racial and economic segregation that still exists in Chicago today.

Chicago police said the city saw 252 murders and 1,100 units in the first six months of this year, a decrease from the same period last year. But these crimes are highly concentrated in predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also leads the protest, said that the city still “the ghetto limits” — real or imagined — is designed to “weapons and drugs in and jobs and schools.”

Pfleger and Jackson claim they have already tried marching through the neighborhood streets, outside churches and along the centre of Michigan Avenue, and that nothing has changed.

At a press conference Tuesday drew him a letter from Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz warning march could people in “great danger” and that people entering the Dan Ryan would be arrested and prosecuted.

On Saturday, Schmitz said that an agreement was reached Thursday between “all stakeholders” for the police to the demonstrators and give them limited access to approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) stretch of the northern lanes of the highway. He said that the police would do “everything in our power” to prevent someone from being hurt.

“The ISP has always supported the public’s First Amendment right to protest,” Schmitz said. “Our first concern is always the safety of the public and the preservation of life.”


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