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Activist priest takes a big risk by calling for a shutdown on the Dan Ryan

Pfleger, who was mentored by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has come too far down the road of resistance to give up now. “I’m taking a page out of the 101 Book of the Civil Rights Movement. We are sick of this violence — the violence by police, the violence of black on black crime, violence across the board,” he told me. | Sun-Times File Photo

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Rev. Michael Pfleger plans to shut down a stretch of the Dan Ryan to make the point that enough is enough.

It may no longer be front-page news, but black and brown Chicagoans are still being killed by gun violence at a rate that shocks the world and shames the city. I still can’t get over the fact that 12-year-old She’nyah O’Flynn was fatally shot in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, and the city went on with business as usual.

At first glance, interrupting traffic on the city’s busiest expressway sounds like a terrible idea.

After all, they don’t call it the “Damn Ryan” for nothing.

OPINION

I’m afraid someone who couldn’t care less about an anti-violence campaign will plow through the crowd and seriously injure someone.

Pfleger is asking for 1,000 people to join the demonstration on Saturday, July 7, at 10 a.m. in which he plans to lead a group down the expressway’s northbound entrance ramp at 79th Street and walk about a mile and a half before exiting at the Marquette Road/67th Street exit ramp. Details are online at www.saintsabina.org.

The biggest concern Pfleger said he has heard so far is that people are going to be “inconvenienced.”

“Death and children being wounded are inconveniencing people,” Pfleger retorted.

Still, the planned shutdown would ramp up the anti-violence demonstration from a protest to civil disobedience.

And while this would be an “unofficial” shutdown, the city would be expected to ensure public safety.

The mayor’s office and the Chicago Police Department did not respond to my requests for comment.

Clearly, there’s a fair amount of risk involved for protesters.

A visual popped into my head from the movie, “Selma.” It was the scene that recounted the violence that occurred when civil rights marchers tried to go into Montgomery. Protesters were turned back on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by blows from baton-wielding police officers and tear gas.

When you think about the lengths those young protesters went to and the risks they took in an effort to be heard, Pfleger’s idea doesn’t sound so radical after all.

His proposal also brought to mind a group of young activists who recently met with the Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial board.

They were representing the #nocopacademy campaign, a coalition of grass-roots groups trying to stop the city from spending $95 million to build a new training facility on the West Side.

While Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), alderman of the ward where the academy would be located, supports the project, these young people are adamantly opposed to the city spending more taxpayer dollars on policing.

They want to see the money spent on improving schools, investing in after-school programs and in other initiatives targeting struggling communities.

As far as they are concerned, there’s no room for compromise.

If that sounds radical, it’s probably because many of us gave up trying to change the system a long time ago, even though that system has failed to fix our glaring problems.

Pfleger, who was mentored by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has come too far down the road of resistance to give up now.

“I’m taking a page out of the 101 Book of the Civil Rights Movement. We are sick of this violence — the violence by police, the violence of black on black crime, violence across the board,” he told me.

“But also the violence of bad schools, violence of poverty, violence of no businesses, violence of those coming back from incarceration with bus fare and no opportunities, and the lack of common-sense gun legislation in our state,” he added.

“But why shut down the Dan Ryan?” I asked.

Given the road rage I witness everyday, I would think that shutting down the expressway is going to make a lot of people angry.

“We decided that nothing seems to be working,” Pfleger responded.

“We want two things that come out of this: The raising of consciousness in the city, and we are sending a message loud and clear to elected officials that we are not going to roll over and lay down and think we have to live with violence in our communities and in our cities. It is not normal and we are not going to accept it,” he said.

The winds of change are definitely picking up.

Come July 7, this will either be the most brilliant idea Pfleger has ever had — or it will be the most damning.

Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a podcast on race relations called “Zebra Sisters.” Check out the first season on iTunes and Google Play Music — or find individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ Zebra Sisters page. Email Mary and Leslie at zebrasisters@suntimes.com or suggest topics for season two by calling the Zebra Hotline: (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).