Rev. Michael Pfleger on Tuesday doubled down on his promise to temporarily shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway this weekend as part of a planned peace march, despite a new warning from state police that participants on the expressway will face arrest.
"This is not about just a march," Pfleger said at a press conference, pointing to news of 61 children struck by gunfire so far this year. "This is not about just an interruption of traffic. This is about the violence in the city of Chicago."
A little over two weeks ago, at Saint Sabina's Peace March, Pfleger called for at least 1,000 people to join him on July 7 in shutting down the expressway to protest the "senseless violence" in Chicago.
According to plans posted on chistrong.org, protesters plan to meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at the 79th Red Line station to begin the march from 79th Street to 68th. Protesters are asking for five things, according to organizers: "resources for our communities, national common sense gun laws, jobs, excellent schools and economic development."
On Tuesday, Pfleger renewed that call, standing beside Rev. Jesse Jackson, community leaders, other pastors and teens to "make sure the purpose of this march is clear to the people coming and clear to the city of Chicago."
“No threats will stop us, no jail cells will contain us,” Jackson said.
State Police, in a statement released just before Pfleger's press conference, warned pedestrians "not to enter any expressways in Illinois, or they will face arrest and prosecution."
"This call to protest on the Dan Ryan, however well-intentioned, is reckless," ISP Director Leo Schmitz said. "It puts the lives of protestors and people in the community in grave danger."
Police said they strongly discourage the protest at this location and said they met with Pfleger to discuss the dangers of doing it, from causing potential hazards for traffic on the expressway to putting the protesters themselves at risk.
"The ISP supports the First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, so long as it does not put the safety of the public in peril," police said in a statement.
Schmitz told NBC 5 that state police aren't looking to arrest people, but they worry about the march risking public safety. "Tens of thousands of drivers will be affected," he said.
Pfleger and others noted major arteries are often shut down for public events and construction.
"If you can shut down Lake Shore Drive for more than a day to install a bridge, then we can shut down the Dan Ryan for two hours to get the justice that we deserve for these innocent lives being lost left and right," one teen said.
"If the president of the United States was to come to Chicago today, law enforcement would immediately be pulled and the entire expressway would absolutely be shut down without negotiation, without conversation and without fail," Pastor Chris Harris said, "to protect one man who ironically has not done anything currently to save the lives of the thousands who have been murdered, shot or wounded in this great city of Chicago."
"If they would shut it down for him," Harris said, "why would we not shut it down for our slain sons and our dying daughters?"
Hundreds of officers are expected to assist during the planned march, and Pfleger was quick to respond when asked about the reallocation of police for the march.
"I don't work for the police department, but let me offer them some advice," he said. "If they say doing this will pull officers from the most needed neighborhoods in the city of Chicago, then pull them from the North Side."