Rev. Al Sharpton was at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd. in West Garfield Park, on July 13 to announce that he plans on joining a coalition of black clergy in a march for justice in Washington, D.C. The event is scheduled to take place on the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin L. King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The New York-based pastor was joined by 20 ministers and community leaders during the press conference. Sharpton said that 1,000 ministers would lead the Aug. 28 march from the Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Monument in Washington to the U. S. Department of Justice.
"The people [elected officials] in Washington are 'dream-busters.' The dream Dr. King had for us as a nation and as a race of people is being torn apart by those who do not want us to reach our goals," contends Sharpton. "People are dying on streets all over the country and especially here in Chicago where over 100 people have been murdered so far this year."
Sharpton said if stricter gun laws were in place, it would reduce illegal gun sales and increase penalties for those shooting people.
"People say guns kill people, not people. But you can't shoot someone without a gun. That's why we need stricter gun legislation. This march is for gun legislation as we stand together to fight crime in our communities."
Shooting deaths in Chicago and other big cities are common but not at the hands of police officers, said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of St. John Bible Church in North Lawndale.
"We are still reeling in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald murder cover-up. As a result, we have extra motivation to have a strong presence on the steps of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. after what happened to this young man," said Acree. "In Chicago, we have police abuse that goes on. And we have systematic racism as well as a 'blue' code of silence when officers do wrong. That's why we are ready to protest and do whatever it takes to get justice for all."
McDonald, a 17-year-old male, died October 2014 after being shot 16 times by former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, now charged with first-degree murder. Four other officers on duty the night McDonald was killed were initially suspended without pay for lying about the incident, but were recently reinstated to desk duty by the Chicago Police Board.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson recommended termination for the officers but was overruled by the police board. In a statement, Johnson said he stands by his decision to fire the officers.
"I have no intention of changing my original recommendation to the Chicago Police Board to terminate the officers; however, the police board leaves me no choice but to reinstate the officers to a paid status," said Johnson. "(And) while legally the ruling leaves us with no other short term options, the officers' police powers will remain suspended and they will not return to the street."
Aside from gun violence, Bishop James Dukes, pastor of the Liberation Christian Center on the South Side, said more needs to be done on the federal level to restore the black middle-class.
According to Dukes, he recently met with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and said he encouraged him to pass legislation that would provide mentorship to black males.
"There are poor, black women living in public housing with their children and using Section 8 to secure housing elsewhere but without the father present," explained Dukes. "Fathers are absent because the woman would lose her government benefits if a man was living at home. This federal system of assistance encourages black men to leave their families if they cannot pay the rent."
Ryan, who is also Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, did not return calls seeking comment.
Dukes added that regardless of a family's financial situation it is never good to separate a family.
"Two broke people apart are still broke," said Dukes. "But when together they can help one another out and make the family stronger."
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