Hundreds of people marched along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue Saturday, Dec. 31, bearing crosses with the names of the nearly 800 victims lost to the city’s gun violence in 2016, CBS Chicago reported. Street violence skyrocketed in the Windy City last year, and now city locals have vowed to do all they can to combat said violence in 2017.
“The last day of the year, we will remember all of who’ve been shot and killed in 2016 [and prior],” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, who helped organize Saturday’s memorial. “We want to break the cycle of violence for 2017!”
The Chicago Police Department announced in a statement on Sunday that the city had seen an “unprecedented rise in violence,” with 762 homicides, 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims in 2016 alone. The last homicide of the year occurred just before 1 p.m. on Saturday when a 24-year-old victim, whose identity hasn’t been released, was gunned down during what police believe to be a road rage incident, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But the violence didn’t end there. The newspaper later reported that 2017 was ushered in by a deadly shootout that left both shooters dead. The incident, which occurred in the early hours of Jan. 1, marked the city’s first and second homicides of the new year.
For Rev. Pfleger, it was important to hold the commemorative march on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue because he felt the soaring gun violence was a citywide issue that everyone should be working to combat.
“Until everybody in Chicago decides it’s their problem, we’re not going to end it,” he said.
The rise in street violence is similar to increases seen in other cities across the U.S., including San Diego, Austin, Indianapolis and Boston, among others, according to reports out of the Brennan Center for Justice and the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The CPD also noted that attacks on city officers nearly doubled in 2016, reflecting nationwide trends.
A sea of marchers carrying 3-foot-tall wooden crosses filled Michigan Avenue on Saturday as they walked from Chicago’s Tribune Tower. Each cross, which bore the name of a victim lost to gun violence, was crafted by Greg Zanis of Aurora. According to CBS Chicago, each of the wooden crosses, totaling over 760, were placed in a vacant lot on the city’s South side following the emotional memorial.
“I just want to tell everybody my heart’s broken for you,” Zanis said. “I don’t know what else to do, but I did a little bit of work for you guys.”
At a news conference on Sunday, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson attributed the out-of-control violence on Chicago’s West and South sides to “anti-police sentiments,” coupled with the justice system’s lenient sentencing guidelines for repeat gun offenders. He asserted that individuals who pull the trigger and are repeatedly let off have since been “emboldened by the national climate against law enforcement” and are no longer afraid to test the limits of the U.S. justice system.
“These emboldened criminals are responsible for destroying families and communities as well as dozens of attacks on Chicago police officers in 2016,” Johnson said.
However, the police superintendent is looking forward to a safer year for Chicagoans, stating the department’s plans to implement several new policing initiatives. Moreover, he stressed the importance of community interaction and promised to relegate officers to work with local leaders to discuss quality-of-life issues. The Chicago Tribune also reported that the CPD plans to hire at least 970 new officers over the next two years.