CHICAGO — Protesters plan to shut down a major Chicago interstate on Saturday in an effort to increase pressure on public officials to address the gun violence that’s claimed hundreds of lives in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, according to WGN.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of people, including clergy, residents and community leaders, were expected to join the march along a stretch of Interstate 94 known as the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Illinois State Police, which had warned earlier in the week that any pedestrian entering the expressway would face arrest, said Saturday that protesters would be allowed to march. State and Chicago police along with Illinois Department of Transportation employees will provide a “safety barrier” between motorists and marchers.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-violence activist on the city’s South Side who will lead Saturday’s march, said the protesters will carry a banner with a list of demands. They include: more resources, jobs, better schools and stronger gun laws — things Pfleger says they’ve been seeking for years.
“When people keep ignoring you, you take it up a notch,” Pfleger said. “We are going to continue to take it up a notch until we get responses.”
There’s a historical significance to marching along the Dan Ryan Expressway — a roadway some believe was built in the early 1960s to separate white communities and poor, black ones. To the west of the new interstate were Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, and neighborhoods such as Bridgeport, home to then-Mayor Richard J. Daley and his clan. To the east rose the Robert Taylor Homes, a high-rise public housing complex that became notorious for its violence.
It was the kind of racial and economic segregation that still exists in Chicago today.
Chicago police said the city saw 252 homicides and 1,100 shootings in the first six months of this year, a decrease from the same period last year. But those crimes have been heavily concentrated in predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who’s also leading the protest, said the city still has “ghetto borders” — real or imagined — designed to keep “guns and drugs in and jobs and schools out.”
Pfleger and Jackson argue they’ve already tried marching through neighborhood streets, outside churches and along downtown’s Michigan Avenue, and that nothing has changed.
At a news conference Tuesday they tore up a letter from Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz warning the march could put people in “grave danger” and that people entering the Dan Ryan would be arrested and prosecuted.
On Saturday, Schmitz said an agreement was reached Thursday between “all stakeholders” for police to accommodate the marchers and provide them limited access to a roughly 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) stretch of the northbound lanes of the expressway. He said police would do “everything in our power” to prevent anyone from being hurt.
“The ISP has always supported the public’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest,” Schmitz said. “Our primary concern has always been the safety of the public and the preservation of life.”