CHICAGO — Turning grief and shock to anger and action, nearly 1,000 Chicago public high school students, including teachers, administrators, parents, religious leaders and elected officials rallied here April 1 against the crisis of gun violence plaguing the city. The rally was called in response to the 21st shooting death of a public school student this school year.
“Stop the killing. Pass gun laws!” exhorted Father Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina Church, as he read a list of the state legislators who have refused to support statewide gun control laws.
Pfleger spoke in front of rows of empty chairs, each with the name of a student and an empty pair of sneakers for those who had been killed.
“We want futures, not funerals!” cried Pfleger, a leader in the campaign against gun violence who three weeks ago vowed to hold a rally in front of the Illinois State Building every time a student was killed. So far there have been three rallies.
“No child is safe while guns are accessible in the streets across the city. We need young people to stand up and say enough is enough. We need young people to take the lead. This is a national emergency. We need our voices to be heard over the special interests and the National Rifle Association,” he said.
Pfleger called for legislation including a measure introduced by State Rep. Harry Osterman, a Chicago Democrat, that would require gun purchasers to have an ID card, limit purchasing to one gun per month, reinstate an assault weapons ban, require universal background checks and make gun crime data public.
Ronnie Mosley, a Simeon High School student, was a rally speaker. “We the youth are here today. We are fed up and we won’t take it any more,” he said. “It makes no sense. We can’t go to school without protection.”
Mosley said the Simeon students and the Local School Council had called a public meeting to discuss solutions.
“What’s the reaction? Direct action! What’s the solution? A youth revolution!” he said.
Many Simeon students came to the rally. Chavez Clark was killed in the school’s parking lot while attending Saturday classes March 29. Students also came from Jones College Prep High School, Ace Technical High School and Crane High School, the site of another killing last month. The students, frustrated and fearful over the continuing violence, had many answers in response to a reporter’s question on how to end it.
“Take all the guns away,” said Simeon student Ebonee Robeson, age 14. “You need to have a legal age for buying guns,” said Tierra Morrin, 14, also from Simeon.
Sarah Loed, 15, from Jones College Prep, added, “We need to strengthen the laws of how to get guns.”
“We’ve got to figure out where these guns are coming from. Then we can start to stop it, said Alicia Holmes, 18, from Ace Tech. “We need to do more to build communication and to talk to each other.”
Sharise Harper, 18, also from Ace Tech added, “The anger and violence often comes from misunderstandings.”
Ron Holt, father of Blair Holt, a student slain last spring, told the rally, “Last year on May 10 we were at 20 students killed. Blair was number 20.” He said, “My heart goes out to all the parents who have lost children.” Holt and other parents of slain youth have formed a group called Purpose over Pain.
Also addressing the rally were Mayor Richard Daley, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and the Rev. Marshall Hatch. After the rally, students marched around the State Building.
The day of the rally it was reported that half of all students in big city high schools don’t graduate. Some link the gun violence to the collapsing public school system and support systems including counseling and mental health services.
“We need to have more programs for children,” said Carol Grant, a Chicago Public Schools coordinator. “In my time we had more activities. There were more jobs. Funding for programs and education has fallen. You used to have truant officers who would reach out to children who had left school. They cut that out about 10 years ago. Now if you are out, you’re out.”
A thousand persons die each day globally as a result of gun violence, including 80 in the United States. There are 640 million guns in the world and 8 million new ones are manufactured each year. Guns kill, wound or disable about 1 million people a year.
A big battle remains to place some curbs on the multi-billion-dollar gun industry. Sturm, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Sigarms, Bryco, Remington and Mossberg are among the largest U.S. handgun manufacturers. They and their front group, the National Rifle Association, have adamantly resisted any form of gun control, and wink at the vast illegal and underground trade in weapons. Any other industry whose product caused so much death and destruction would have been regulated or shut down years ago.
At the behest of the big gun manufacturers, the Bush administration and its predecessors have consistently blocked all efforts to curb the illegal international gun trade.