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Remembering lives lost to gun violence and praying for change in the new year

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jan 6, 2017 - 10:45:38 AM

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(L) A family member rested the cross of her loved one and cried during the march on New Year’s Eve down the Magnificent Mile remembering homicide victims who lost their lives in 2016. (R) Carrying the crosses of deceased loved ones reopened old wounds of grief for family and friends.

CHICAGO—Those who were born and raised and who have lived on the city’s South and West sides understand that violence, in particular gun violence, has been a consistent and pervasive reality in these parts of the city.

However, not since the election of Barack Obama has the spotlight shined so brightly on Chicago and the number of shootings and murders has become a point of national conversation.

Father Michael Pfleger (center) of St. Sabina Catholic Church addresses the marchers at the peace rally held New Year’s Eve on Michigan Avenue to bring attention to the 762 homicide victims that died in 2016.
“There will never be closure when you lose a loved one like this, but it does bring you closer to the ones you love the most,” said Mayra Ortiz-Colon whose brother, Angel Ortiz Jr., was shot and killed Sunday, April 3, 2016, while working his job as a bouncer trying to break up a fight on the city’s Northwest side.

Unfortunately, 2016 was an exceptionally violent year—the worst in more than two decades.

According to the Chicago Police Department, 4,331 people were shot and 762 people were killed last year in the city’s 3,550 shooting incidents. Compared to 2015, there were 1,100 more shootings and 277 more homicides in Chicago in 2016—the largest spike in six decades—with police recovering 8,300 illegal weapons, a 20 percent increase over the number of weapons seized the year prior.

Photos: Haroon Rajaee
In addition, the Chicago Police Department reported that more than 80 percent of shooting victims in 2016 were documented gang members, and more than 75 percent of the shootings happened in just five of the city’s 22 police districts.

Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago’s South Side Auburn-Gresham neighborhood led a peace march and rally on New Year’s Eve along Chicago’s most popular location, Michigan Avenue.

He has a long history of working against violence, drugs and racism. His downtown march was not unlike weekly marches he has often led in violence affected neighborhoods.

Four large truckloads of crosses bearing the names, pictures and date of death for each one of Chicago’s 762 murder victims, were unloaded on the “Magnificent Mile,” as six busloads of friends and family members got off to search for their loved ones and carry their crosses down the famed shopping and tourist attraction to help raise awareness for the need of these senseless acts of violence to stop.

“As we get ready to walk into a new year, we need to walk into the conscience of what happened last year with the shooting violence, and what we’re going to do to change it,” Father Pfleger told The Final Call. “We’re doing this on Michigan Ave. because it’s the center of Chicago and what we’re seeing is not just a South and West side problem, it’s a Chicago problem.”

Seeing so many crosses aligned along the sidewalk, and then being carried down the middle of one of the city’s most iconic and busiest streets, actualized the magnitude of not only the violence, but the number of lives—the majority of which were Black and Latino—lost in 2016. It also re-opened the wounds for many of those affected as they once again shed tears for their loved ones whose lives were taken in such a violent fashion.

 “Seeing everybody together and seeing all of these crosses is a good thing, but it’s never enough to help you feel better about losing someone you love,” said Mayra Ortiz-Colon, who was among the marchers.

Twenty-four-year-old DeAndre Holiday was Chicago’s first homicide in 2016. He was killed in the early morning of January 1, 2016, just two hours into the New Year, after being involved in a fight on the city’s South Side. Holiday’s father, Rene Canady Sr., had to bear the burden of carrying two crosses: one for his son, and the other for his nephew, Derrick Canady, who was shot and killed in August.

“The first of the year, I can never celebrate the holiday because of my son,” Canady Sr. told The Final Call. “It’s nice that [this march] is going on and I took off work to make sure that I was here to remember him.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson of Rainbow Push was also on hand at the New Year’s Eve peace march to stand in solidarity with Father Pfleger and the families of those killed in 2016.

Several hundred people marched along with Father Michael Pfleger and Rev. Jesse Jackson recently in downtown Chicago to call attention to Chicago’s senseless violence.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson of Rainbow PUSH, (middle) and Father Michael Pfleger march in solidarity with families of those killed in 2016. Photos: Haroon Rajaee

Rev. Jackson thanked everyone who came out for their courage in reliving the pain of losing loved ones. The city of Chicago has become an “international disgrace,” due to continued and increasing violence in the streets, he said.

“Drugs and guns are coming in and good jobs and schools are going out,” Rev. Jackson said to The Final Call. “We are standing here on the eve of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

“In the 153 years that have passed, these killings are a representation and extension of the slavery that still exists. We’ve gone from Jim Crow where more than 5,000 Black people were lynched, to 2016 with more than 4,000 [Blacks and Latinos] shot. The cycle has not been broken.”