Pfleger Waiting for Politicians to Respond before Planning Future Protests

(Tribune) The clock is ticking.

Letters from St. Sabina Catholic Church’s youth group were mailed to local and state politicians well before a Saturday protest shut down northbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway in an attempt to shine a light on the violence, joblessness and poverty afflicting some South Side communities.

On Monday, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, said the group of 15- to 22-year-olds last Tuesday mailed a request for a face-to-face meeting to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner, as well as all the candidates for those offices running against the incumbents.

“We’ll give them to the end of this week to let us know if they intend to meet with the youth leadership,” Pfleger said. “There have been some responses already.”

Pfleger wouldn’t immediately say which of the politicians already responded or whether they agreed to a meeting. He did make clear before the protest, which drew thousands of people and national media coverage, that if elected officials do not agree to address concerns, they should expect another act of civil disobedience. He wouldn’t elaborate on what that might be.

“A good poker player never shows his cards,” he said with a laugh.

Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins on Monday said the mayor will meet with the youth and Pfleger.

“Reducing gun violence isn’t just a job for police,” Collins said. “Those who marched on Saturday stood up to be part of the solution gun violence, and the mayor will be happy to meet with them.”

Saturday’s protest didn’t just cause tempers to flare on the Dan Ryan and arterial roads; battle lines also were drawn in cyberspace as Rauner and Emanuel took to Twitter.

Governor Rauner
✔@GovRauner

This is unacceptable. We had clear parameters that allowed the protestors to be heard while respecting law and order. Instead, they chose instead to cause chaos.
12:00 PM – Jul 7, 2018

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Rauner called the protest “chaos” after it took over all lanes and completely shut down northbound traffic, which he said was not what was “agreed to.”
Emanuel seemed to chime in on Pfleger’s behalf with a concise but pointed message to the governor:
“It was a peaceful protest. Delete your account.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel
✔@ChicagosMayor

It was a peaceful protest. Delete your account.

Governor Rauner
✔@GovRauner
Replying to @GovRauner
I’m disappointed in the Mayor. There was an agreement in place. I am calling on the Mayor to take swift and decisive action to put an end to this kind of chaos. I will work with him in good faith and urge him to do his job so that the people of Chicago feel safe.

12:50 PM – Jul 7, 2018

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The next day, Emanuel urged people to pay less attention to what he was saying and more attention to what the protest was about.

“I said what I said to the governor, it’s over,” Emanuel said. “Everybody focus on the message, what the marchers spoke about, which is the importance of anti-violence (and) raising the awareness that we all have a role to play. I happen to think, as I’ve always said, it’s about putting police on the street, getting kids, guns and gangs off the street.”

When asked whether Pfleger has spoken with Emanuel or Rauner since Saturday, Pfleger said he hadn’t spoken with Emanuel in months and hasn’t spoken to Rauner since he was elected in 2015.

Rauner on Monday declined to elaborate on discussions with Emanuel ahead of Saturday’s event.

The governor said he respects the right to protest, but he doubled down on his opposition to using the Dan Ryan.

“No one should go onto an interstate expressway. It’s wrong. It’s dangerous,” Rauner said at an unrelated campaign event. “Just as no one should go onto a runway at O’Hare (International) Airport. It’s not the place to protest.”

Pfleger said organizers were clear for three weeks leading up to the event that protesters were not going to settle for anything less than a shutdown of the Dan Ryan.

“I guess the governor needs to go back to the dictionary and look up the definitions of ‘dissent’ and ‘civil disobedience,’ ” he said, adding that he hopes others will not become distracted by the politics surrounding the protest. “Those who were there, they could care less about all that; they are concerned about the issues.”

Pfleger said he got a call from the director of the Illinois State Police on Saturday morning before the march. The director asked the priest whether he would agree to certain parameters, and Pfleger said he told him no. From his account, Pfleger said the director said he would see what he could do and he would call back before the march began but never did.

“The state pulled an act of confrontation and intimidation,” Pfleger said. “When I walked out there and saw the correctional buses and all these state police with backpacks — I don’t know what was in them but it certainly wasn’t their lunch. I had visions of 1960. Here we are in 2018 and I see the same kind of tactics you’d see more than 50 years ago.”
State police said Saturday morning that they had agreed to allow the protesters to march on the expressway.

State police have “always supported the public’s first amendment right to peacefully protest. Our primary concern has always been the safety of the public and the preservation of life,” state police Director Leo Schmitz said in a statement.

For all the talk of deals he didn’t agree to, Pfleger said, credit goes to Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for eventually convincing state police that refusing to let protesters take over all inbound lanes would be a safety issue. He and Johnson then walked arm-in-arm for a time, and Pfleger said he saw the same spirit of cooperation in those who showed up to call attention to poverty, joblessness and the violence.

“I thought it was historical. It was black, it was white, it was brown,” Pfleger said. “It was an amazing display of unity and empowerment.”

Article Org: chicagotribune.com

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