Yesenia Martinez, who lost a son due to violence in 2016, is consoled by a relative. Photo: Antonio Zavala
Chicago residents marched on Michigan Avenue on New Year’s Eve carrying hundreds of wooden crosses to draw attention to the city’s alarming violence that left hundreds of people dead in 2016.
“This is not Arlington Cemetery, this is Chicago,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger as marchers behind him stood holding 780 crosses, one for each person killed in 2016.
The total number of homicides in 2016 represents a 57 percent increase from the 468 homicides that were reported in Chicago in 2015.
Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, made an urgent plea for all people to get involved in finding solutions to the extreme violence that has also left 4,310 people wounded in the streets of Chicago.
“We are calling on public and elected officials, civic leaders and neighbors and residents, all of Chicago, to take a stand against violence,” Pfleger said at the start of the march.
The alarming number of homicides is the highest it’s been since almost twenty years ago when the city reported 761 homicides in 1997.
“This is not a West Side problem, this is not a South Side problem, this is a Chicago problem,” Rev. Pfleger said, “We need to rebuild the social fabric of the city, peace doesn’t just happen, it is created, peace-makers create peace.”
Photo: Antonio Zavala
As he spoke, many relatives of the victims wept as did also some onlookers along the protest route.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. also attended the march and called on authorities to find real solutions to the shameful homicide rate that is bigger than the homicide rates of New York and Los Angeles combined.
As the marchers made their way to the Water Tower, two volunteers read the names of the 780 victims.
The sound of the names echoed off the tall buildings along the plush avenue as the volunteers read the names of victims such as Rolando Gamino, David Plank, Lee Martin, Hector del Río, Alvon O’Brien, Robert Bishop and on until all the names were read out loud.
The image of the large number of crosses being carried along the Magnificent Mile was quite surrealistic befitting an image from the films of the late film director Luis Buñuel. As the marchers advanced with the crosses, it seemed as if the protest had become a moving, walking cemetery.
“They are not statistics, they are not just numbers, they are human beings,” reminded pastor Pfleger in reference to the many people who lost their lives.
Yesenia Martínez could not hold off her tears as she stood in front of a two-foot tall white cross with her son’s photo and name on it. She said her son, Jesús Martínez Jr., 20 years-old, was killed on July 24 of last year as he waited at a stop sign near his home in West Lawn in Chicago.
Someone unknown came up to his side and shot him, she said. Martínez said she hopes the authorities can become more proactive in resolving the city’s violence.
“They have to do a better job of managing this city,” Yesenia said minutes before the march began.
Another Hispanic, Julio López, said he attended this march to support his friend who lost a family relative, Jesús Juárez, age 43, who was killed last year on May 3 at the intersection of 18th Street and Halsted.
López said he attribute so much violence to poor neighborhoods, loss of jobs and lax authorities to fail to act. He said he saw no hope for the future.
Photo: Antonio Zavala
“The violence is not going to stop soon, we need better measures to contain it,” said López.
Gustavo Torres, another protester, said he is a member of the Little Village group Padres Ángeles, a parent support group, and added that some parents let their guard down about protecting their children from the violent streets of the city.
“The family has to help guide the children so they don’t fall into the hands of bad influences in the neighborhoods,” Torres said.
The march took place one day before the CBS-TV program “60 Minutes” aired a segment on the city’s alarming rate of violence.
According to “60 Minutes”, as the crime rate soared in 2016, police activity to curtail it fell to lower levels.
“In August of 2015, cops stopped and questioned 49,257 people. A year later those stops dropped to 8,859, down 80 percent. At the same time arrests were off by a third, from just over 10,000 to 6, 900,” said reporter Bill Whitaker in the segment.
Asked in the “60 Minutes” segment if the Police Department in the city is facing a crisis, former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said it was so.
“Crisis is a good word. When people are dying, yes, there’s crisis. No two ways about it,” said McCarthy.
Photo: Antonio Zavala
Antonio Zavala is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago and writes about the people and neighborhoods of Chicago.