CHICAGO (CBS) — Rev. Michael Pfleger and other community activists are standing firm on plans to lead a peace march along the Dan Ryan Expressway on Saturday, despite concerns from police that the march would put a strain on the department, and pull officers away from neighborhoods.
Pfleger, other clergy, community leaders, and young people have vowed to shut down the Dan Ryan at 79th Street on Saturday, to send a message against gun violence in Chicago.
Organizers said they are expecting about 1,000 people to march. The marchers said they want to send a message to elected officials and police leaders that they want a more targeted and aggressive response to violent crime in the African-American community.
To draw attention to the cause, they plan to shut down the Dan Ryan by marching down the 79th Street entrance ramp, and head north to 67th Street.
Protest leaders said they are not backing down from that plan, despite threats by Illinois State Police to arrest anyone standing on the expressway.
“We will be shutting down the Dan Ryan Expressway so our elected officials and officials-to-be will hear our voices, because we have the solution to these problems, but we need them to be implemented. We are not just protesting without a plan. We have a group of youth leaders who want to have a meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and all the candidates running in the upcoming election,” one protest organizer said Tuesday morning.
Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz said he believes the march organizers “have a good cause,” but the expressway is not the appropriate place to make their voices heard. He said marching onto a busy expressway not only puts the marchers’ lives in danger, it also puts drivers and police at risk.
“The potential danger and threat to life is just too great to allow. The likelihood of injury, property damage, and – God forbid – loss of life this action could cause is enormous, and threatens too many people,” Schmitz said. “The potential for death or injury to pedestrians on the expressway, no matter how righteous the cause, is enormous. We worry about them.”
Calling plans to march on the Dan Ryan a “reckless action,” Schmitz said state police are urging Pfleger and other organizers to find a “more appropriate” location to hold their march.
“They have a good cause, but I think the expressway, they can get what they want to get done not on the expressway,” Schmitz said. “We’re not looking to arrest people. I mean, if people break the law, we may have to arrest people, but that’s not what our goal is here.”
Chicago police also have urged the march organizers not to march on the Dan Ryan, stating it would require far more officers to escort the demonstrators and ensure their safety on an expressway than if they were to march on city streets, and draw resources away from fighting violent crime.
“The problem with shutting down a major expressway is manpower-intensive. We may need up to 200, even more than 200 police officers to ensure the safety of these marchers,” First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio said last week. “The very thing that they’re trying to accomplish – stop violence and stop shootings – has the potential to actually escalate because we’re pulling police officers out of the neighborhoods where we need them in order to escort them, the protesters, down the expressway.”
Riccio said the department supports the idea of a peace march, but believes it would be better to hold it in the neighborhoods where shootings have become too common.
“Take this march into the communities where the violence is and show the people in the community that you have all of this support for peace and anti-violence,” Riccio said. “Pretty much anything other than the expressway would be a reasonable alternative.”
Police officials said they plan to continue talking to Pfleger and other protest organizers to try and come up with an alternative to holding the march on the Dan Ryan.