EDITORIAL: The logic and anger behind stopping traffic on the Dan Ryan

SHARE EDITORIAL: The logic and anger behind stopping traffic on the Dan Ryan

The Rev. Michael Pfleger plans to lead a shutdown of the Dan Ryan Expressway on Saturday morning. | Jim Young/Getty Images

Powerful city officials don’t like it. Chicago and State Police have tried to stop it.

A lot of Chicagoans don’t like the idea either, and they’ve sent a flood of hate email and vicious threats to the Rev. Michael Pfleger to express their outrage about his plan to lead an anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway on Saturday morning.


In a better world, it wouldn’t take shutting down a major expressway for more than a mile to force action against gun violence, joblessness and other social ills plaguing the South Side.

After all, closing down the Dan Ryan is no small or inexpensive feat. Overtime costs for extra police to ensure public safety will be high. Hundreds of Saturday commuters and weekend travelers will be annoyed as all get-out when they’re rerouted to side streets and forced to take a longer trip.

But, honestly, as much as we would prefer that this demonstration take place in, say, Indiana — a big source of Chicago’s illegal guns — we find it hard to knock Pfleger or the marchers for making such a dramatic gesture. It is their lives on the line in too many neighborhoods every evening they walk out the door.

It’s the people in Auburn Gresham, where Pfleger’s St. Sabina Church is located, and in South Chicago, Roseland and other communities where violence is endemic, who know first-hand what it’s like to repeatedly bury relatives and friends and neighbors killed by gun violence. And they’re the ones who must cope with the second-hand effects, like being jolted wide awake at 3 a.m. by gunfire outside.

The big question, for us, is not the shutdown itself. We have confidence the police will keep folks safe.

The bigger question is, what happens next?

Chicago has witnessed dozens, if not hundreds, of anti-violence marches and prayer vigils for gun violence victims. Yet the shootings continue. We have a reputation as a city where one dare not set foot outside without a flak jacket. That reputation is enormously exaggerated and unfair, but the danger in certain parts of town is very real.

This march has to lead to something other than an exit ramp on the Ryan. It has to push an agenda and leave a lasting impact — next week, next month, next year. It and all the other big shows of outrage have to translate, somehow, into real lives being saved.

“I’m not putting myself out here to get all these threats, all this hate, to get nothing,” Pfleger told us.

We don’t want nothing, either.

To that end, it’s worth paying attention to the concrete demands of Pfleger and the young people, from St. Sabina and elsewhere, who will be marching.

It begins with a letter that the young marchers have already sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and all the candidates for mayor and governor. The letter makes a simple request: Meet with us. Talk to us about our problems, the violence and joblessness and bad schools we experience, and work with us on some solutions. 

Every public official, current or aspiring, who got that letter should make that meeting happen.

The marchers also are calling for highly specific commonsense gun laws, many of which this editorial page has outlined in our 31 Bullets series. The state licensing of gun shops and universal background checks, to cite two obviously reasonable reforms, could significantly help stem the flow of illegal guns that end up on South Side streets.

Pfleger also wants City Hall to pressure businesses to do more hiring from the 10 communities on the South Side that have the highest unemployment rates. And he is urging the city and the state to create a joint office to focus solely on bringing new businesses, and jobs, to those neighborhoods.

A march is a march, Pfleger says, but saner gun laws, better schools and more and better jobs for the chronically unemployed — now there’s real action and social justice.

“We can change what we want to change,” says the man who’s about to stop traffic.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

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