‘We can’t police our way out of this’
By Chinta Strausberg
Father Michael L. Pfleger Sunday said perhaps if everyone would practice Dr. Martin Luther King, Mr.’s principles of a unified community and develop a “moral compass,” perhaps the violence that is gripping our city would diminish.
Asking the church to turn to Luke 10:30-32, Saint Sabina’s Pfleger preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan where both a priest and a Levite passed by the road where a battered man, who had been beaten and robbed, lay ignored. He urged the church to seize the moment of discipleship by reaching back and help those less fortunate.
Thanking the new Chicago Police Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, for attending Unity Sunday service, Pfleger challenged his congregation to step up to the plate and discipline their own children and to watch out for others rather than relying on the police to raise their sons and daughters. Pfleger laid out the disparity in educating black and white students and how those in the Civil Rights movement “missed the mark” in seeking equality.
Pfleger criticized the way this nation integrated schools saying it missed the mark by bussing black students to all-white schools instead of bussing the money and resources to African American schools. He stressed the lessons learned from the parable of the Good Samaritan and suggested his conduct should be emulated today.
Putting it in secular terms, Pfleger said both religion and government walked by ignoring the condition of the half-clothed and bruised man. It was a Samaritan who stopped and bandaged his wounds, put him on his own donkey and doctored the wounded man.
Pfleger said maybe the priest and the government man may have wondered why they passed up the wounded man or perhaps they didn’t want to get involved. “Maybe this gospel passage was one of the early experiences of the Code of Silence.”
Referring to today’s time where many are selfish, fear and a “disconnected” community, Pfleger said we have become strangers to each other and sometimes in our own homes.
Quoting his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfleger said we ought to have a “moral compass…a divine consciousness…because it’s not to ask the question what will happen to me but what will happen to him if I don’t stop and help him….
Referring to an ad on TV involving a homeless man and someone say “I almost” helped him followed by a voice that said “John almost made it though the night,” Pfleger said in today’s times “we have a spirit of almost where we want to do things but don’t have them happen. We have a lot of tragedy that takes place around us because we are caught up with the almost.”
Quoting his late mother, Pfleger said she would tell him, “The road is paved with good intentions.” “The road to hell is paved with almost in our lives.”
He said many have asked him for a spiritual explanation of incidents like thousands of fish dead, thousands of birds drop from the sky, dead, floods including some cities having to open their gates to save others, earthquakes like in Haiti and other countries and tornadoes like in Joplin, Missouri, where an entire town was wiped out.
Pfleger told them, “Maybe ‘God is trying to show us we can’t do it without him…. Maybe God is showing us we ain’t as smart as you think you are…. Maybe if you brought me back in the picture, you can see some things change again.
“But, I can’t help but wonder if some of the shaking of creation and some of the instability that is going in the atmosphere all around the world, I can’t help but ask the question, I wonder if it might be the result of a God whose heart is aching and whose anger is raging at the condition of a world he placed in our hands,” he said. Pfleger said the bible is clear about the wrath of God “when we do not do what he calls us to do…. “
Today, Pfleger said too many people walk by the man on the road. “We may have tried to ignore the conditions of the world around them…but God will not ignore the cries of his children…. God hears the cries of his children…”
He asked, “What will happens if we fail to be church…fail to stop and address this love affair we have with war all around the world?” Pfleger took a page from Dr. King who said back in the 1960’s “it is war in Vietnam that is sucking the finances from our economy that keeps us from caring about our brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods….
“I can’t help but wonder if our love affair with war today is sucking the money we need to keep us from dealing and ending poverty in our own country.” Pfleger said our poverty is expanding.
Looking at the recent unemployment rate coupled with the current legislative battle to balance the budget, Pfleger said lawmakers are trying to cut $2.3 billion from job training, cut $1.8 billion from Head Start, cut $100 million from emergency food and shelters, want to cut $12.5 billion from affordable housing while we have so much homelessness in our society. What would happen if we don’t address the war issue? What will happen to our future if we don’t demand the fixing of our public education system in America,” he asked including the private and parochial educational systems as well.
Saying he is “so torn apart,” Pfleger said, “The best thing we did as Catholics was education and here we are now running an elitist school system where poor people can’t go to Catholic schools. We’re closing Catholic schools all around this country. We shouldn’t be closing them. We should be expanding them,” he stated. “We should be building them,” he bellowed.
Having been taught in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Pfleger said, “We made a big mistake in the movement. We made a big mistake because we fought to integrate schools and we bussed many black children, young boys and girls, to integrate schools in all-white school systems and we thought that was the way to integrate because the child would get a good education if they are bussed to that good white school.
“But, instead of busing children, we should have bussed resources. That is what we should have done to solve the problem. We should have bussed books. We should have bussed good teachers. We should have bussed good expectations, good grades, and good classrooms…infrastructure. We should have bussed money,” said Pfleger.
“We integrated people, but we never integrated respect. We never integrated honor. We never integrated dignity. We never integrated love, and we never integrated the dollar,” he said. “We bussed folks to another neighborhood, but we still left the neighborhood they came from losing and being without what they need in order to be a strong community. We need to bus money.”
Pfleger said he was concerned the night terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Pfleger said he was alarmed at the number of parties and parades held around the world over the death of bin Laden. Making himself clear, Pfleger added, “Osama bin Laden was a bad boy. I am no way defending what he did. He was a maniac who killed and murdered ruthlessly.
“But when we begin to celebrate anybody’s guilt, there is a danger of becoming what we use to condemned, “ Pfleger warned. “There is a danger of letting that kind of moral lowering of the bar get into us.”
Explaining that he is not soft on crime, Pfleger said when a person commits a crime they should be locked up because “you do wrong, you got to jail because you can’t come out here and sell drugs and shoot. I understand that, but we ought not get excited about murder.”
“What would happen if we ignore the conditions around us? What would happen if we don’t stop this tsunami of foreclosures that is taking place in our neighborhood, in Englewood, in Lawndale, all across the city of Chicago? If we don’t stop this foreclosure and stop this unemployment in our community…” he says is either 9.6 or 9.8 percent but 15 or 16 percent in black communities with Englewood and Auburn-Gresham is near 30 percent…. Something is wrong with that picture.”
The proof, he said, is taking a simple trip down the streets and you’ll see boarded up homes. “I get mad when Wall Street is doing better and 79th Street is doing worse. Something’s got to trickle down somewhere where the young men, young women are losing their home.
“I get mad when our employment center on 79th and Racine can’t find jobs for people. I get mad when I see building going on in our neighborhood” but no blacks working on these projects. “I don’t understand. If African Americans could build the White House and African Americans built the Capitol, can’t they build something here in Chicago,” asked Pfleger.
“Something is wrong when we do not allow a mother or father to get a job to take care of their children and we ignore that. And, we get selfish and say, ‘well, I got my job. You got to get yours.’ No. We got to get our job together because that’s my brother. That’s my sister.
“What will happen if we sit back and ignore what I think is an injustice that says we can now drug test people living in public housing but we don’t drug test teachers? We don’t drug test pastors. We don’t drug test corporate boardrooms. We don’t drug test coaches, and anybody who has watched the NBA knows we should be drug testing refs….”
“I don’t have a problem with drug testing people in public housing, but let’s drug test everybody. There should be one set of rules. Just don’t put somebody under control because they are dependent on you for a housing situation. Then, let’s drug test them at the workplace…in the classroom, the teachers…principals…everybody…because last I read there is a whole lot of prescription drug addicts around the country that nobody is talking about,” Pfleger said calling for one set of rules.
“What is going to happen to our future if we continue to teach our children to go to school…get a degree…get a good job, but we challenge them to go to college “and when they do the tuition is unaffordable, grants are unavailable and loans “are so ridiculous that if you go to college and get a loan unless you will live to be 200 or 300, you can’t even pay it off before you die.” Pfleger said in pushing youth to go to college, given the state of the economy “we’re frustrating them.”
He asked about what will be done about the mass incarceration. “When somebody goes to jail and wants to do right, there is no place to turn because they can’t get a job. We can’t just complain about recidivism for the ones who want to change and turn their lives around but we don’t offer an opportunity to do that.
“We’ve got to open doors to places that say they don’t want to hire ex-cons, folks with a record, if you don’t hire them and don’t give then an opportunity, those who are sincere, and you don’t give them chance to turn around, then you can’t complain about them going back to jail where you’re going to pay $30,000 to $40,000 to take care of them anyway. You can give them $25,000 or $30,000 to get them a job rather than $35,000 to $40,000 to stay in jail.”
Pfleger asked what will happen if the church does not stop the violence. He said across this nation it is all too common that the “the norm of the evening sound is gunshots, sirens and helicopters. Today, it is not campus, or Kappa’s” or other sororities but rather gangs he said are “becoming the fraternities of the streets.” “What kind of sickness is this where guns continue to become a rite of passage where everybody can not only get a gun but too many have a gun or access to a gun?”
Pfleger said both the gun industry and the NRA are making major bucks but they live in gated communities “where they don’t have to deal with the effects and the results of the weapons they sell on the streets.”
Pfleger turned to the police chief and said, “We have to talk to these federal people. If we can find Hussein in a little cave across the ocean, don’t tell me we can’t find people who are bring guns into our neighborhoods right across state lines all around this country. We gotta get the feds to get on it. Feds, you have to get on it and make these guns accountable.”
Referring to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, Pfleger said you’ll see the state, county and Chicago police arresting people from Indiana bringing fireworks to Illinois. “If we can find fireworks coming from Indiana in a truck, then there ought to be some federal officials who ought to find guns coming from Mississippi, Indiana to Chicago.
“The Chicago police would not have to deal with the gun here if the federal government stops the guns from getting here. Follow it right from the manufacture. Title guns like cars, right from the manufacture. Title it. We gotta stop this violence.”
Pfleger said while he is glad we have more police in Chicago, he warned, “I don’t care how many police we have in the streets, we cannot police our way out of this violence situation…. We are not going to solve the violence issue in this city or any city in America until we, as mothers and fathers, neighbors, churches, businesses, elected officials, until we rise up and be the caretaker, the tillers and the farmers of this garden God gave us.
“Why would we call the police to take are of my son…my daughter? That’s your responsibility. That’s my responsibility,” said Pfleger. “We should not have to call the police to come on my block because the neighbor’s kid is acting up.” Pfleger said parents must take charge of their own children.
“People are afraid of their children. The day you become afraid of your child, you should check yourself into a mental hospital,” he said. “We have to decide that this violent thing begins with us in the neighborhood, in the community, in the home, on the block. The police should be the last resort, not the first choice of action.”
Pfleger told of a mother calling him about her son was killed nearly two-weeks ago. He asked her why she hadn’t buried her son. She didn’t have any money and told him “members of my family are holding bake sales” to pay for the funeral.
“Violence will not end and the genocide that is taking place with our children will not stop until we stop.” Pfleger said it is up to the parents.
Referring to the killer tornado that almost wiped out the town of Joplin, Missouri, Pfleger said, “If in a natural tragedy people can come together and solve the program, why in a mandate tragedy can’t we come together and stop the problem?
“I can’t stop a tornado…, but if I can’t stop Mother Nature, can’t I stop man made evil…. Why are we not stopping? Why are we walking by” these social problems. Pfleger said, “We cannot continue to ask the question what will happen to me if I get involved…. We have to ask the question what will happen if we don’t get involved.”
Pfleger told the church they wouldn’t be here today had it not been for the assistance of somebody helped them. In the past, Pfleger said “people from the early apostles to the Freedom Riders sacrificed so I can sit here dressed up today. Grandmothers who never went to college so you could go to college, grandmothers who never had a house so you can own a house….
“Let’s be clear before we become too arrogant about where we are and we who think we’ve made it. Everybody here lives in red…lives in debt for generations that paved the way for us to sit here,” said Pfleger.
Referring to Memorial Day and how so many veterans gave their lives, Pfleger said, “every now and then you and I ought to have some personal Memorial days to remember the people in your family.”
Pastor Pfleger had the elders stand up including the first black nurse 54-years ago. “These are the elders…,” he said asking the church to thank the elders of the past who helped them along the way. “Grandmothers always helped to raise children…. If someone helped you along the way, you ought to bring somebody else along the way. I bind up selfishness and self-centeredness and all those wicked spirits that keep us hung up on ourselves and forget those around us.”
He remembers the first time going to a concern and hearing the cacophony of the instruments; that is until the conductor came in, tapped his baton on the podium that trigged an “awesome concert. “
“I’m just crazy enough to believe that the Almighty conductor of heaven and earth is getting ready to step up to the podium and he is going to take his mighty baton and will put it on the stand called earth and begin to touch it, tap it. Maybe that is what’s going on with earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes…. Maybe the earth is shaking because the great orchestra conductor of all time is tapping his baton called grace, and mercy and wrath and justice…and he’s calling the great orchestra on humanity, you, me, our children, and our elders.
“He’s calling us to come together from all of your chaos, from all of your division…come together and get off the grandstand sitting like you’re watching a game of somebody else…. Get up out of your house, walk out into your street and begin to take the baton that generations passed on to you. Take the baton and say this is our opportunity…to make a difference for generations yet to come…. Bring us together…as a city…a nation. Bring us together.”
Pfleger said he is not concerned about the chaos. “This is an opportunity for us, the church of Jesus Christ, to rise up and make a difference. I dare you…to seize the moment, make a difference so that generations to come will say thank God you lived and the discipleship of Jesus Christ is still alive today. He may have gone to heaven, but you’re still here now go do what God called you to do and preach the gospel across the earth,” he stated.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.