Marchers urge city officials not to overlook ‘virus of violence’

The Rev. Michael Pfleger and about 150 demonstrators marched along Michigan Avenue on Thursday.

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A protestor holds up a large wooden cross during a protest against the violence in the city of Chicago on N. Michigan Ave in Magnificent Mile, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger led a silent, antiviolence march Thursday along North Michigan Avenue.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Holding fluttering Chicago flags with bullet holes instead of red stars, they marched along Michigan Avenue on Thursday urging city leaders not to forget the “virus of violence.”

“We have blood running in our streets. We have mothers crying. We have whole neighborhoods that are traumatized,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who led the gathering of about 150 people.

Pfleger, senior pastor at St. Sabina Church on the South Side, said the city’s plague of violence in 2020 — 774 murders — has been largely forgotten in a year of dealing with the coronavirus.

“Gun violence is a public health crisis, but it is a treatable public health crisis,” said Pfleger, a veteran anti-violence campaigner.

Accompanying him were dozens of people, several holding aloft framed photographs of those they have lost to gun violence. In silence — a gesture of mourning for those killed — the group marched from Tribune Plaza to the Water Tower and back.

Nicole McGee battled through the cold to keep her young cousin Mekhi James’ name alive. The 3-year-old was shot to death this summer and was one of the youngest shooting victims this year.

Mekhi was heading home after getting a haircut with his stepfather — who was believed to be the intended target — when someone opened fire into their car. No arrests have been made, and the case remains open, according to the Chicago Police Department.

“It is up to us as his family to keep his name alive, spreading awareness and keep letting people know that this did happen to a 3-year-old,” McGree said. “He was ours, and we don’t want anyone to forget about it.”

Tackling gun violence starts in the communities where it occurs, she said.

“Communities have to stop protecting killers,” McGee said. “That’s one thing we must do is stop protecting the shooters.”

William Rodgers lost his 16-year-old nephew to gun violence in 2019 and is still trying to understand why gun violence persists. Lazarrick Green was found unresponsive with a gunshot wound to the chest in Garfield Park.

“My nephew was killed because of community violence, and we have to stop it,” Rodgers said. “Let’s stop the violence in our community.”

To do that, Rodgers said, there needs to be investment in education, job programs and a push to increase wages.

“The police also need to respect people, no matter their color, and the community because that is the only way trust can be built,” Rodgers said.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides. Stefano Esposito is a staff reporter.

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