Marchers carry nearly 800 crosses down Michigan Avenue to remember city’s 2016 murder victims

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Monday, January 2, 2017

Marchers carry crosses to remember murder victims

Marchers carried 800 crosses down Michigan Avenue on Dec. 31, 2016 in memory of people murdered in 2016.
Over 700 crosses were carried along Michigan Avenue on Dec. 31- one for each person killed in 2016 in Chicago. Greg Zanis of Aurora constructed the crosses with the help of volunteers and distributed them to families of the victims. St. Sabina Parish and its pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, organized the march down the Magnificent Mile. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers unloaded hundreds of crosses and lined them up in front of the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. Families carried crosses bearing the names of their loved ones. (Michelle Martin/Chicago Catholic)
Father Michael Pfleger addressed the crowd before the march. (Michelle Martin/Chicago Catholic)
Marchers carried crosses with names of victims killed in 2016 in Chicago. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A man carried 2 crosses of young men that were slain by gun violence. Jonathan Mills, 26, was a basketball standout with 2 young daughters and Lee Martin, 43, was the second son killed in 2016 to one mother (Thelma Smith). (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Marchers continued to carry crosses with names of the victims. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Marchers carried a 'Celebrate Life' sign. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Tykina Watts carried a cross baring her daughter's name as over 700 crosses were carried along Michigan Avenue on Dec. 31. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Tykina Watts is comforted by participants as she became emotional during the march. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Pedestrians watched as the march approached Michigan and Ohio. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Marchers, most who were family members of loved ones lost to gun violence, comforted each other. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Shara Funches’ eyes roved over the rows of crosses set up on the sidewalk just north of the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue.

Funches was looking for the cross bearing the name of her godson, Devon Almon, who was gunned down on the Eisenhower Expressway on Sept. 29. Almon was 23.

“I had to be here for him. But also for all the kids who died. It just has to stop. It’s just sad. All the mothers, all the fathers, robbed,” said Funches. She was one of hundreds of people who joined a Dec. 31 march on North Michigan Avenue organized by Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Parish, 1210 W. 78th Place, to remember those who died by gun violence in Chicago in 2016.

According to the Chicago Police Department, the city recorded 762 murders in 2016. Pfleger told those who marched that there were nearly 800 crosses.

The name of each victim, along with their age and date of death, was written on a 2-foot-tall wooden cross built by Greg Zanis of Aurora, Illinois. Family members and loved ones carried some of the crosses; others were carried by strangers who came to bear witness to the toll the violence has taken on not just the victims’ families, but the city and community as a whole.

Vic Doucette of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette came with his wife to show solidarity with families who have lost members to violence.

“It draws attention to the issue,” Doucette said. “It gives people an opportunity to express their feelings and be witness to those who are suffering. We need to do something.”

Leading off the march, Pfleger told the group that the violence will not end until everyone gets involved.

“We’re protesting violence,” he said. “Who are we calling to get involved? Everyone. … Every elected official; every government agency; every business and corporation; every mosque and synagogue and church; every law enforcement official; every parent, neighbor and resident; and every citizen from children to elders. Everyone. We are calling on all of Chicago to take a stand against violence. We are calling on Chicagoans: Get personally involved. We must level the playing field. We need jobs. We need the education system invested in. We need to reestablish police and community relationships. We need community and economic development. We need to make a choice, a decision, against violence. Peace does not just happen. Peace is created. The Bible says, ‘Blessed are peacemakers.’ Not the peacekeepers, because peace-keeping is business as usual. Peacemakers create peace and make the atmosphere where justice and peace stand together.”

He also called for accountability for gun traffickers and gun shops that make illegal sales.

“This is not a West Side problem,” Pfleger said. “This is not a South Side problem. This is a Chicago problem. The reason we’re on Michigan Avenue – because this is a Chicago problem. And until everybody in Chicago decides it’s a problem, we’re not going to end it. Everyone must do their part.”

Greg Zanis, who made the crosses, said, “I just want to tell everybody my heart’s broken.”

Zanis has made crosses to remember victims of violence for years, including those killed in the mass shootings in Littleton, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut.

“I just don’t know what else to do,” he said.

He had plans to display the crosses in Chicago over the New Year’s holiday, and when Pfleger approached him with the idea of the march, he agreed to bring the crosses.

The march proceeded in near silence, led by Pfleger, state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and Rev. Jesse Jackson. They took turns reading the list of names as the group moved north to the Water Tower, paused, then returned to the area just north of the river.

“Damn. What the hell,” said Larren Davis quietly as he saw the rows of crosses, some seven deep, waiting to be claimed and carried. An employee of a Chicago tour bus company had to move its kiosk as the crowd coming to march engulfed it.

Davis’ son, Sentwali Davis, 37, was robbed of his cell phone, shot in the head and left in an alley on the 4200 block of West Wilcox on Oct. 22.

“They have no leads in the case,” Davis said. “The detectives don’t even return our calls. The supervisor says they’re overwhelmed.”

Davis said he passed people ice skating in Millennium Park on his way to the march.

“They should be out here now,” he said. “Everything should be stopped. We’re in a war zone. Homeland Security should be right here.”

As the march prepared to start, Pfleger urged everyone who could hear him to pick up a cross and start walking.

“Each of these crosses are made to remind us that these are not statistics, these are not numbers. These are human beings. Chicago is less today because of the potential and the talent we’ve slaughtered over this last year. My hope today is that we, all of us, Chicago, are shamed by 800 crosses out here. We’re shamed by being the poster boy for violence in America,” he said.

Seeing all of the crosses representing the dead should also shake people up to want to end the violence in the streets, he said.

Over and over, people in pairs or groups of three or four would approach the crosses on the sidewalk. When they saw the one marked with the name and often a photo of their loved one, they would weep. Some stood, quietly, tears streaming down their faces. Others fell to their knees and wailed.

Sonia Fierro cried when Pfleger handed her the cross with the name and picture of her son, Armani Fierro, who was 20 when he was shot on Aug. 31. He was the 476th victim for the year.

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sonia Fierro said. “It needs to stop. The question is, will it ever end?”

Dolores Castaneda helped carry a banner from the Padres Angeles group at St. Agnes of Bohemia. The banner had the photos of St. Agnes parishioners killed by violence in the last couple of years.

“We support the family when somebody dies through violence. St. Agnes will support them in their time of need,” said Castaneda, adding that her own daughter had been shot, but survived. “Everybody in the community is touched by violence.”

Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave, said his parishioners felt it was important to participate after hosting their own anti-violence march in Little Village in November.

“It’s not just a situation in the African-American community,” Nevins said. “It’s very much in the Hispanic community as well.”

As the march concluded, those who were carrying the cross for a family member were told they could take it home. Others were asked to leave their crosses behind so that their families could get them later.

After the march was over, Pfleger said he was heartened by the response.

“Look at this group,” he said. “It’s black and white and brown. And it’s going to take all of us to solve this.”


  • gun violence
  • peace
  • father pfleger

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