MAGNIFICENT MILE — Rev. Michael Pfleger led a group of more than 100 marchers along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Thursday to protest the city’s staggering rise in homicides in 2020.
Pfleger, of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, led supporters, many of who had lost loved ones to gun violence, through the heart of Chicago’s downtown commercial district to highlight the city’s ongoing violence problem. Bringing the issue to Michigan Avenue is one way for his cause to get more notice, Pfleger said.
“It’s the heart of this city and it’s the money of this city. It takes money to equal the playing field,” Pfleger said, adding that residents in the high-rent areas have more influence than those on the South and West sides of the city and could help.
“The people who live down here have to get as angry as the people who live near us. The power is down here.”
Despite fewer shootings and murders over the previous three years, 2020 saw homicides increase by more than 50 percent, according to Police Department statistics.
Last year, Chicago, a city of 2.7 million, recorded 769 homicides, a 54 percent jump over the same period in 2019, when 495 people in the city were slain, according to police data. Additionally, shootings rose 51 percent, to 3,261 from 2,146.
Other large cities saw increases, as well, but none approached Chicago’s levels.
Through Dec. 20, New York City, with more than three times Chicago’s population, saw murders rise to 437 from 314, a 39 percent increase, according to New York City police.
In Los Angeles, a city with nearly 4 million people, murders rose 33.5 percent to 343 from 2019, when 257 were killed, according to Los Angeles police.
Asked about the uptick in violence earlier this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the coronavirus pandemic was partly to blame.
“It’s been a hard time,” Lightfoot said. “Frustration, anger, unfortunately some of that is playing out in violence. A lot of things that are manifestations of trauma and mental health challenges have been in full bloom.”
On Thursday, Pfleger took issue with Lightfoot’s statement.
“I’m not falling for the okey-doke of blaming this all on the virus. Don’t make the virus a scapegoat for not dealing with the violence,” he said.
He was joined by relatives of the slain, who braved 28-degree temperatures to gather near Tribune Plaza, located near Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River. They marched north along the famed Mag Mile, passing shoppers going in and out of expensive stores, while they carried signs that memorialized their murdered relatives and carried Chicago flags adorned with blood-stained bullet holes in place of the four six-pointed stars in the middle of the flag.
Nicole McGee, 30, carried a sign with pictures of her cousin Mekhi James, a 3-year-old shot and killed June 24.
“You hear about it, but you never expect it to happen to a baby,” McGee said. For her, it was the second time a relative was killed by Chicago gun violence. In 2015, her 39-year-old cousin, Randy James, was Chicago’s first homicide victim of the year.
Harriet Holmes marched with a sign for her grandson Nahmar, a 23-year-old shot 16 times in 2016.
“It never stops because a lot of these parents are aware that their kids are in gangs and have guns and they aren’t speaking up. That’s not how things should be,” Holmes said.
Rainbow PUSH field director Bishop Tavis Grant addressed police misconduct and the low murder clearance rate, but he said supporters need to do their part.
“We know about the blue code of silence, but we also have to break the Black code of silence. If you see something, say something,” Grant said.
Pfleger, who started his activism four decades ago, said he will continue on until Chicago violence ends, but acknowledged he’s tired of having to lead events like Thursday’s march.
“I’m tired of marches, protests, and boycotts, but I’m also tired of business as usual. And I’m not a quitter.”
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