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Chicago churches asked to protest New York grand jury decision

Chicago pastors and churches are being asked to take to the streets during their services Sunday to protest a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer, whose chokehold killed an unarmed black man stopped for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina Church, and the Rev. Chris Harris, pastor of Bright Star Church, called for the citywide demonstrations Thursday.

They want religious leaders and their flocks to briefly interrupt traffic outside their churches to send a message “that black life matters,” they said.

Their protest call comes the day after protests were sparked in several U.S. cities, including New York, after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner. The deadly incident was captured on videotape.

“I’m making a clarion call for faith institution collaboration… for every pastor in Chicago to take their congregations outside of the church Sunday and let their voices be heard,” Harris said. “The church is supposed to be the place where the voice of social justice is amplified. … My hope is to get more churches engaged and involved in what happens in our communities, that our community will see that it’s more than black folks who care about these issues.”

Pfleger said that grand jury decision, which follows last week’s St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, who killed black, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, must prompt change.

“The system’s not working,” Pfleger said. “It’s broken, and until we fix it, we’ll have more people saying forget the system because it’s not going to work for us.

“Everybody of conscience should go outside and stand in the street and shut down traffic for period of time. It really becomes symbolic to say we want to interrupt what’s going on in America, we want to interrupt injustice, we want to interrupt in America the murdering of black youth, the militarism of police, to interrupt a system that’s not working for all people … What we’re seeing in America right now is how to get away with murder is more than a TV show.”

The churches are using social media to help promote the protest.

Harris said his church, at 735 E. 44th Street, plans to march and block traffic along Cottage Grove for 30 minutes starting at 1 p.m. Sunday in what he’s calling “a half hour of power.”

He cautioned standing on the sidelines when faced with community issues carries consequences for religious institutions.

“If we are not careful, a silent church will become an irrelevant church to this generation,” he said.