Hundreds march with crosses as powerful symbol of gun violence’s human toll

CHICAGO -- Chicago is finishing 2016 with a dubious milestone: this year the city has logged more homicides than any other major American city.

Advocates and activists joined family and friends Saturday to honor the survivors and victims of Chicago’s gun violence with a march down Michigan Ave Saturday carrying nearly 800 wooden crosses, each one representing a victim of homicide in Chicago this year. They transformed Michigan Ave. from the Magnificent Mile into a moving memorial.

At the march, St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger told hundreds of people that murder is not a West Side or a South Side problem – it’s a Chicago problem. It’s why he brought the march to Michigan Ave.: to remind the rest of the city of the human toll of this violent year.

“This is not Arlington National Cemetery, this is Chicago. This is Chicago," Fr. Pfleger said.

Family and friends of the victims joined Chicagoans and strangers in hoisting the heavy wooden crosses on their shoulders.

“It is a very moving moment to see all of these people, carrying the crosses with the names and the photographs – i’m sorry i’m crying, but it’s just too touching,” onlooker Maria Camargo.

Fr. Michael Pfleger said the number of killings had made Chicago the nation’s murder capital.

“We’re shamed to have more murders than New York and Los Angeles combined, we are shamed that we are the blood city in america. But we don’t want to just be shamed, we want to be shaken, shaken to do something about it," Pfleger said.

It was a march for peace, a protest against violence, where they read the names of the dead aloud. It was also a silent statement. There were no chants and no disruptions -- just the people bearing the crosses and those bearing witness.

“Which is – i feel like – more powerful than raging or destroying things because it just sends a peaceful message that something has to change," said onlooker Darryl Johnson.

At the march, a woman who lost both her boyfriend and her best friend in shootings this year, said it's "heartbreaking." And as mothers wept for lost children, it was a reminder each cross represented a person who was walking these streets just one year ago, and now is carried by others only in memory.

“These are not statistics, these are not numbers, these are human beings,” Fr. Pfleger said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the city would hire about 1,000 police officers, but almost all experts agree that to bring these numbers down next year, it will take a sustained effort on many fronts. That includes investments in education and jobs, and pressure from the faith community, and the families of victims in the city’s most violent neighborhoods.