Continuing a week of protest over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police, the Rev. Michael Pfleger on Sunday interrupted Mass — leading worshipers out of the pews at Saint Sabina Catholic Church and into the street.
“We are taking a stand with our young people,” Pfleger said, referring to those who have been protesting around the country. “I have never been more proud to be an American citizen than right now. We got your back, we are going to fight with you.”
Then, in a fiery bit of oratory, he shouted: “We’re going to shut down 79th and Racine… Let’s take it to the streets!”
Taking over the intersection, the group of more than 100 held periods of silence for Michael Brown and Eric Garner — two black men who were killed by police this summer. Garner was choked by an officer in New York; some witnesses have said Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. In each case, grand juries declined to charge the officers who killed the men.
“Our justice system is broken. Body cameras don’t make a difference if we can see it and still don’t convict anybody,” Pfleger said during the service, referring to the body-mounted cameras that some have suggested as a panacea to police-involved violence.
Chicago police had blocked off the intersection in advance of the protest. News helicopters whirred overhead during the roughly half-hour action. At one point Pfleger led the group in chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breath.” Later, the crowd sang a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
On the short walk back to the church, the group sang the Civil Rights movement hymn, “We Shall Overcome.”
Erik Lunde, 25, of Pilsen, isn’t a parishioner at Saint Sabina. But like many present, he said he attended because he wanted to be a part of the protest.
“We are standing in solidarity against injustice, for a God that loves everyone, regardless of skin color,” Lunde said.
Simeon Serino, 23, of Englewood, said the rally showed the black community was finally raising their voice about poor treatment from authorities.
“It’s about time we make ourselves heard,” Serino said. “Everybody has been quiet for too long.”
But even before the worshipers marched, the tone set when three men joined the Mass’ opening procession, walking with the acolytes towards the altar of the South Side church. One held his hands in the air, one clutched his throat, and the other raised a clenched fist — all symbols that have become affiliated with the recent protests of police killings.
“People say what is… protesting going to do?,” Pfleger said. “All I know is people wearing pink made this country come to grips with breast cancer.
“If we can raise the consciousness breast cancer, we can raise the consciousness of genocide.”
Lee Goodman, 61, traveled from north suburban Northbrook to attend Sunday’s mass. Goodman said major social changes in the U.S. have come about when church-going people have become involved.
“I’m here for the same reason everyone is here: black lives matter,” Goodman said. “We have to speak in unity against the violence… And faith-based groups have been central to all changes in the country dating to the beginning.”