CHICAGO — Under the threat of arrest, Father Michael Pfleger will go ahead with his planed protest Saturday that includes shutting down the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Nearly 3,000 people are expected to march. They will meet at St. Sabina and then attempt to enter the expressway at 79th Street.
The planned peace march on the Dan Ryan is seen by some as courageous and others as contentious.
“It’s not just to shut down to shut down, we have an agenda,” Father Pfleger said.
By bringing one of the busiest highways in the country to a standstill, he hopes to move people to action to address violence and poverty.
“Our communities live neglected and abandoned,” he said. “We need jobs. We need economic development. We need good schools. We need mental health.”
Friday, Father Pfleger got the support of the Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police superintendent Eddie Johnson.
“I think tomorrow’s march is an important march,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel said he is supporting the effort. He wants Illinois State Police to know that the peaceful protesters should be allowed to march on the expressway.
“I think they should be allowed because they’re going to be talking about anti-violence,” he said. “And I think there’s a proper way to raise that awareness I don’t think there should ever have been a doubt about that effort.”
Superintendent Johnson said a few hundred Chicago police officers will be on hand to ensure public safety and crowd and traffic control. He said he views the role of the Chicago police as one of protecting the constitutional rights.
“We have no interest in arresting peaceful protesters,” he said. “What the Illinois State Police decide is what they decide.”
The expressway is the jurisdiction of the Illinois State Police.
Leo Schmitz, the director of the state police said the protest presents a needless public safety risk and called it “reckless.” He warned anyone who plans to march that they’ll be arrested and charged with trespassing as soon as they set foot on an expressway ramp.
“I mean if people break the law, we may have to arrest people but that’s not what our goal is here,” Schmitz said.
But Father Pfleger has his critics in the clergy, too. Pastor Anthony Williams of the First Congregation Church was incredulous and inflammatory.
"He can't continue to play Tarzan in the black community,” he said.
Williams said he’s planning a large counter-protest to denounce Pfleger as a showman.
"Nobody benefits. The only person who benefits is Pfleger. This is his dog and pony show,” he said. “He's not serious about helping to solve the system of violence.”
The expressway shut down has achieved one goal already: The city is certainly talking about it and the reason behind it.