South Side alderman protesting ‘Chiraq’ denies permit for block party co-sponsored by Spike Lee

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The campaign to pressure movie director Spike Lee to drop the name “Chiraq” from his upcoming move on black-on-black violence is intensifying. A rookie aldermen is playing hardball.

Newly elected Ald. David Moore (17th) is refusing to grant a city permit required to close the street for Saturday’s annual summer block party outside St. Sabina’s Catholic Church in Auburn-Gresham for one reason: the party is co-sponsored by Spike Lee and the cast of “Chiraq.”

“He would not sign the permit if Spike Lee had anything to do with it. He said his residents have a problem with the name of the movie,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, the outspoken pastor of St. Sabina’s who is cooperating with Lee on the Chicago-based movie.

“He was told we would have signatures we’d get from people in the neighborhood showing they’re in support of the movie. He would not respond. He’s just doing it because he has a problem with Spike Lee and the movie.”

Moore said he denied the permit because of the “economic impact” the title “Chiraq” would have on his impoverished and job-starved ward.

Ald. David Moore has refused the pemit for St. Sabina’s annual block party. | Sun-Times file photo

“We already get excuses from people who come into our community saying why they’re not building. I don’t want this to be another excuse,” Moore said.

“Mothers who have lost their children spoke with me. They had great reservations about this title. Signing of the permit has to go through the aldermen.”

Pfleger, who backed Glenda Franklin in the race for 17th Ward alderman, said he’s not about to let a rookie alderman overstepping his bounds spoil the party for Auburn-Gresham residents and their children.

The block party between 78th and 79th Streets on Throop will go on — from 2 pm. to 8 p.m. on Saturday — with or without a permit, he said.

The pastor noted that the church owns “one whole side” of the block and that residents on the other side are “all in favor” of the block party.

“We’ve done lots of block parties and events without permits before. We’re not gonna hurt the community. It’s up to the neighbors,” Pfleger said.

Rev. Michael Pfleger says St. Sabina’s block party will go on, with or without a city permit. | Sun-Times File Photo

“This is a free thing for the neighborhood. Nobody is making any money. To try to stop it would be to punish the families, kids and adults who benefit from this. You’re gonna try to punish the neighborhood because you don’t like the name of the movie? That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

If the show goes on without the permit, Moore was asked whether he would attempt to shut it down. He dodged the question, saying only that he would ask for “whatever legally the city is supposed to do when someone doesn’t have a permit.”

Hours later, the aldermen issued a statement condemning Pfleger’s defiance as a poor example for inner-city teenagers.

“We cannot ask our young people to respect authority if we’re not going to respect authority. Everyone believes they can do their own thing for their own reasons and when that occurs, it creates the kind of chaos that we experience in the black community all too often,” Moore was quoted as saying.

“If St. Sabina can skirt the rules, then the door will open for every other person in every other ward to do the same thing.”

Before filming the movie in Chicago, Lee visited St. Sabina and interviewed school principals, parents who have lost children to gun violence and members of “Brothers from the Blocks.”

More recently, Pfleger hosted a news conference in which Lee urged Chicagoans to see the movie first before jumping to the conclusion that it will malign Chicago and undermine the city’s attempts to attract businesses and tourism.

“They are going to look stupid and be on the wrong side of history,” Lee said of the critics, who have included Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Wednesday, Pfleger said the “Chiraq” controversy borders on a theater of the absurd.

“It’s not damaging [to Chicago]. You know what’s damaging? One killed and 12 shot in the city overnight. That’s damaging,” he said.

Last month, Ald. Will Burns (4th) took the municipal angst over Lee’s working title to a whole new level that could run afoul of the First Amendment.

Burns introduced a City Council resolution calling on the Illinois Film Office to deny Lee’s request for a $3 million film production tax credit.

It turned out to be a moot point after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner froze all film tax credits as part of $400 million in budget cuts tied to the budget stalemate with Democratic legislative leaders over Rauner’s demands for pro-business, anti-union reforms.

Burns said Wednesday he has no idea whether Moore has the legal right to deny the block party permit because of Lee’s co-sponsorship. But, Burns applauded the latest pressure tactic.

“I’m no lawyer. But David represents Auburn-Gresham and Englewood. He’s standing up for the folks in his community. Expressing your opinion as the representative of the people is always the right thing to do,” Burns said.

“I went to an event in Englewood, and a lot people were not happy. A number of those folks are David’s constituents. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to put his imprimatur behind an event that celebrates the title of the movie and the production.”

Rev. Michael Pfleger spoke at a news conference outside St. Sabina last month about Spike Lee’s new movie. Lee is kneeling in front of the lectern at left; actor John Cusack, who is in the film, is standing to Pfleger’s left. | Sun-Times File Photo

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