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Occupy movement aims to tackle street violence

By La Risa Lynch Contributing Writer | Last updated: Jun 26, 2013 - 7:32:47 PM

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Hundreds gathered on Chicago’s southwest side to continue to call attention to the gun violence plaguing the city. Photos: LaRisa Lynch
CHICAGO - Meshelle Johnson, 26, remembers summers differently from what most Chicago youth experience now. As a teen, she remembers walking to the lakefront, sitting on the porch and aimlessly riding her bike down city streets.

“Now you have to lock all your doors and ride fast if you feel like you are in danger,” Ms. Johnson said of the violence plaguing Chicago neighborhoods, earning the city the nickname “Chi-raq.”

 “It is no sense of community anymore,” she added.

That is why she and hundreds like her attended an Occupy the Streets rally and march Friday, June 21 to promote a violence free summer.  The Summer of 2012 saw 153 people killed from June through August, according to news reports. 

And while overall crime is down, Chicago has seen 150 murders this year alone. The weekend before the Occupy rally, nearly 50 were shot and 7 killed. Those numbers are expected to rise in July, which typically is the most violent month of the year.

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Father Michael Pfleger
Outspoken Catholic priest Father Michael Pfleger hosted the rally that drew hundreds outside his South Side church, St. Sabina, located at 1210 W. 78th Pl.

The rally embodied the spirit of other occupy movements that took place in Chicago, on Wall Street in New York and in Oakland last year.

But the impetus for this rally was different. This movement is to take back the streets and the city’s youth from gun violence and gangs.

“We cannot wait for law enforcement or for government,” said Father Pfleger, flanked by local politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife Amy Rule. “We must run our homes. We must run our blocks.  We must run our neighborhoods. We must occupy the streets.”

That, he said, begins with getting off Twitter and Facebook and interacting with the neighbors. He also urged the crowd to have zero tolerance for violence in their neighborhoods.

“Chicago, this summer, get out of your homes. Get out of our synagogues. Get out of your mosques… Break the code of silence and apathy. Be the boots on the ground on your block. You may not be able to change a city, but you can change your block…,” Father Pfleger said.

It still takes a village, added Phillip Jackson, of BlackStar Project. The education advocacy group co-sponsored the rally.

Mr. Jackson recalled a time when adults, both men and women, watched over neighbors’ children, sat on porches and “were all in the streets during the day.” Now, he said, that’s been replaced with young men hustling, robbing and killing.

“We have to teach our community to save themselves and to protect themselves. That is what this Occupy the Streets movement is about,” said Mr. Jackson

During the rally, the names of 107 children killed by gun violence were read aloud. Annette Nance-Holt’s son Blair was among them. Her son was killed in 2007 when a gunman fired into a bus filled with students heading home from school. Ms. Nance-Holt and other mothers of gun violence victims participated in the march that traversed through three different gang territories.

“This is kind of a rallying call to motivate people to come out of their houses to take care of our children for the summer because no parent wants to live through this,” she said.

Many attending the rally had several theories on curtailing violence, but one stood out—more parental involvement.

Andrea Hawkins brought her three children, ages 17, 16 and 6 to the event. Her 17-year-old son attends Hirsch High School, which has had its share of violence. Ms. Hawkins said knowing her children’s whereabouts is key to keeping them safe.

“Keeping tabs on where they are [and] not having them where they shouldn’t be because a lot of things happen,” Ms. Hawkins said.

Melvin Carter, 52, blames the violence in the streets on a beef still percolating over the 2012 death of rapper Lil JoJo. The rapper, who was gunned down in the streets, allegedly had a war of words with rapper Chief Keef. He believes better police presence, like foot patrols, can deter some violence, but he predicts a summer hot with violence.

“It’s gonna blow-up,” he said. “This march is a good thing, but it is not gonna stop anything what’s about to happen. We are sitting on a time bomb right now.”

To keep kids safe, he advised parents to talk to their children.

“Make them understand that violence is not the way out and being in a gang is not the way in,” Mr. Carter said. “Listen to what they are trying to tell you about the streets out here whether you live on 69th Street or 79th Street.”

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