Hundreds of people joined a peace march Sunday both in memory of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and to rally against continued violence in Chicago.
“At some point, we have to stop this vicious cycle of urban violence,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller, which hosted the march.
Willie Williams Jr., holding up a photo of his slain son, said he joined the march in the North Austin neighborhood to help keep others from suffering the pain he has endured since his 17-year-old son, Willie III, was shot and killed six years ago Sunday at the Ford City Mall movie theater.
He said he would tell Martin’s parents to keep up their fight for an answer.
“Parents need closure,” he said.
Williams said it took a multi-agency effort – cold-case detectives, America’s Most Wanted TV show and calls from the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church – to find his son’s killer, on April 7, 2010.
“We need to talk about gun violence every day,” he said.
He said politicians, TV celebrities and sports stars such as the Bulls’ Derrrick Rose and Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade should heighten the conversation. Indeed, Wade’s nephew was one of 13 men shot in Chicago during a six-hour stretch that ended Friday morning.
Martin’s death, which has prompted a national debate about race, occurred after he was shot in the chest on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who said he acted in self defense. Zimmerman has not been charged in the case, in which Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, was carrying a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea but no weapon.
As the 250 people of Greater St. John Bible Church marched several blocks throughout the neighborhood, some wearing hoodies, they chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and “Stop the violence, save the children.”
Their signs said, “94-plus murders since January,” and “In the last four school years, 260 murdered.”
Children carried signs, too.
Takyla Gordon, who will turn 4 on June 6, held up a sign saying, “My birthday is June 6. Will I see it?”
Her brother, Travis Gordon, 5, held his sign, “Young black male + hoodie does not equal a criminal.”
Acree had known 15-year-old Maurice Brown, Jr., a former member of the church’s student mentoring program, who was killed in a robbery on Dec. 12, 2003.
“He (Brown) was gunned down,” Acree said.
Brown’s mother, Penny Bady, a church member, credited the pastor with helping her every step of the way as she has coped with her loss. Bady talked as she marched, explaining that her son was shot by someone trying to steal his coat just two doors away from his home in the 4700 block of West Washington. Bady had paid $30 for the coat, which looked like designer suede.
Bady, who works as a customer service coordinator at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s transplant unit, donated her son’s organs and has become friends with the recipient of her son’s left kidney.
“I choose to fight my pain with power,” she said, noting that she now speaks to community groups and others about the benefits of organ donation.
One young man who declined to give his name, one of many who came out of their houses or stopped on the sidewalk, said, “Marching ain’t going to do nothing in this ‘hood.”
Asked why, he said things would continue as they are.
A trio of leaders at Westside Christian Center at 5620 W. Chicago Ave. stood outside, watching the marchers. They welcomed the march, and would have included their congregation, but they didn’t know about it.
Asked whether local churches networked to share information, Deacon Herbert Owens said, “Not as much as we should,” as the marchers passed by.
So what are the answers?
Alderman Deborah Graham, a former state representative who initially was appointed alderman by Mayor Richard Daley, said she fought unsuccessfully in Springfield against widespread gun ownership, but that the National Rifle Association and pro-gun forces are powerful.
Graham and the Rev. Acree both told the crowd that the answer is personal responsibility and the community rising up for itself.
“We have to examine ourselves,” Graham said.
Acree said the community shouldn’t have to have contingents of Chicago police to ring the neighborhood.
“This is not Afghanistan,” he said. “We have assets – churches, smart kids, honest people serving us. We have to make a unified effort, help the police and work together. We can never let it be said that we are comfortable killing each other.”