More than 770 crosses — one for each person killed in Chicago in 2016 — were carried along the Magnificent Mile late Saturday morning as part of a march organized by Father Michael Pfleger to decry the violence that has claimed the most lives in a year since the mid-1990s.
Most families and friends had to find one cross, handmade by Greg Zanis, a retired carpenter from west suburban Aurora, who etched the name of a victim on each cross in permanent marker.
For him and others marching, it was comforting to be surrounded by others who could understand his grief.
“I feel better, like someone cares,” he said.
Others shared Canady’s feeling, saying the pain they felt this year was lessened by being with others who’ve suffered such loss.
Marta Suarez was there to carry the cross of her best friend Abner Garcia, a 23-year-old Army veteran and youth mentor who was shot to death in West Elsdon in August.
“He wanted a positive change for a lot of people and that’s what he did, and for that he will always be remembered,” Suarez said.
Holding back tears, Suarez said she was talking to Garcia on the phone about an hour before he was shot.
The Chicago Sun-Times has tallied 780 murders in Chicago in 2016, the most in a single year since 1996, when the city recorded 791, according to Chicago Police.
Saturday’s march began outside the Tribune Tower, with Pfleger — whose adopted son was shot to death in 1998 — first addressing those in attendance over a megaphone. After he asked each cross be lifted up, he said: “This is not Arlington National Cemetery. This is Chicago.”
“This is not a West Side problem. This is not a South Side problem. This is a Chicago problem,” the St. Sabina pastor added.
Some crosses, though, went unclaimed. Pfleger said those would be returned to Zanis’ home and the victims’ families could get them at any time.
The group walked north on Michigan in solemn near-silence, except for people who took turns reading the names of those killed this year.
After stopping at the intersection of Chicago and Michigan to pray, the march turned around to go back south. As the group approached Ontario, a Chicago Police sergeant told a street performer, covered in silver paint, to turn off his techno music until the march had passed.
Caroline Hurley was there for her son, Isaiah, who was shot to death in North Lawndale in October. She, too, took solace in the number of people who participated in the march.
“It’s comforting, but then it’s also sad,” she said.
Her son had three children at the time he was killed, though Hurley said, “They’re babies, so they don’t really understand.”
Hurley said her son had a great sense of fashion, and she chose to wear a pair of his pants to the march.
The marchers fully reconvened in the northbound lanes of Michigan just north of the Chicago River, which allowed police to reopen southbound traffic.
Standing on a planter and flanked by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Pfleger thanked those who attended, conceding that New Year’s Eve may not be the easiest day to attract attendees to a march to memorialize murder victims.
“When I put this out, I recognized that this is New Year’s Eve. I recognized that people are doing a lot of different things. But I thank you for responding,” Pfleger said. “This is what it’s going to take to solve this: Every single one of us.”