Pfleger still at forefront of anti-gun fight as he plans June march
“I truly believe the greatest symbol of evil in our time is a child lying in a casket, slaughtered by violence. How many people have to die and children slaughtered before we say, ‘Enough!?’ ”
He is one of a Chicago kind.
Many times a soundbite, more often a story, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, an anti-gun activist since the 1980s, is still pulling the trigger.
“I may be older — who knows if I’m wiser? — but I can’t see another innocent child in a casket, the victim of another bullet,” says the Chicago cleric who who turns 73 Sunday and has been known for decades as the peace priest.
“I truly believe the greatest symbol of evil in our time is a child lying in a casket, slaughtered by violence,” says Pfleger, who was just awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Governors State University. “How many people have to die and children slaughtered before we say, ‘Enough!?’
“We cannot be a moral voice for the world when we kill our own children and each other.”
His words might pulsate like a Gatling gun, but there is an exhaustion about Pfleger these days. He’s a priest who has been leading peace marches for decades from the steps of St. Sabina Church, which houses the South Side’s largest Black Roman Catholic congregation. His nearby Ark of St. Sabina was the site of a press conference Wednesday where Gov. J.B. Pritzker praised Pfleger’s anti-gun activism before signing a new Illinois law banning unregistered “ghost guns.”
“A ghost gun is designed for violence, an untraceable weapon of mass destruction,” Pfleger says. “When I first heard about its existence I felt a new version of a nightmare beginning.”
Pfleger feels the pandemic has thrown everything out of whack, including in the neighborhood around his church at 1210 W. 78th Pl.
“Everything everywhere seems to be disconnected these days,” he says.
“Our neighborhoods are even worse” than before, he says, pointing to the disappearance of block clubs, the loss of community safety plans and the despair of parents who have lost children and hope due to a surge in violence.
“I may be wrong, but it also seems like we are even more disconnected as a society because of another epidemic: COVID,” he says. “We stayed away from each other, stayed home, became isolated, masked up.
“We had huge problems before. Racism. Poverty. Gang crime. But everything now seems to be exaggerated. Fear has risen, and everyone seems so beaten down. The gangs are so fractured now. There seems to be a new group every other block, buoyed by social media.”
On June 17, two days before the celebration of the new, nationally recognized Juneteenth holiday marking the official end of slavery, Pfleger will lead another anti-violence march and rally for peace from the steps of St. Sabina. He hasn’t been able to hold a major march as he’s done countless times before because of the pandemic.
He’ll be accompanied by Bulls defensive anchor Ayo Dosunmu, who lost a close friend in a drive-by shooting in 2011.
“I love my city,” Dosunmu says in a video posted to YouTube. “It’s a beautiful city. But it’s a lot of hatred.”
Says Pfleger: “There is fear and unrest downtown and beyond. But it’s ... not the masses of kids going downtown to create unrest. It’s the dozens of instigators who cause the real problems.
“Has anyone considered the fact these Brown and Black kids feel safer downtown than their own neighborhoods? Think about it. If you do not make parks and places for kids to go which are safe in their communities, then shame on us.”
Pfleger hopes the march will inspire an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting people to take charge in their homes, organize blocks, develop phone trees to connect with each other again and create new neighborhood safety plans.
“Everyone responsible for this mess must be part of the solution, all the way from the home to the houses of government.
“My hope is we aggressively choose to take care of each other, reconnect as human beings and partners and find a way to put the neighbor back in the hood and choose hope again.”
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