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Mayor Rahm Emanuel Backs Activist Priest’s Highway Protest

Father Michael Pfleger, Rahm Emanuel
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WARNER TODD HUSTON

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is backing a plan by liberal activist Catholic Priest Father Michael Pfleger,to shut down one of the city’s busiest highways with an anti-gun protest despite warnings from the Illinois State Police of the dangers of the plan and that marchers could be arrested.

Pfleger has been making plans for about a week to shut the highway down by sending a flood of protesters onto the busy south-side highway that feeds into the city’s downtown section. Pfleger claims the protest is meant to “raise awareness” about the constant violence that infests the city, killing hundreds of citizens per year.

On Friday, Mayor Emanuel — a former Obama chief of staff — said he supports Pfleger’s plan to shut down Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“They should be allowed (on the Dan Ryan), yes, because they’re going to be talking about anti-violence,” Emanuel told the media at a school budget event. “And I think there’s a proper way to raise that awareness. I don’t think there should ever have been a doubt about that effort.”

This is the first time that Emanuel has given his opinion about Pfleger’s plans for Saturday.

But other officials are less enamored of the plan. Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz – whose department has the responsibility to police the highway, even inside the city limits, warned that his officers may have to arrest any protesters who try to enter the roadway.

“We’re not looking to arrest people. I mean if people break the law, we may have to arrest people. But that’s not what our goal is here,” Schmitz said on Tuesday. “That’s not our goal. Our goal is to save lives whether it be the young children or people in the city or motorists. We just don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

“This call to protest on the Dan Ryan, however well-intentioned, could be considered reckless and must be strongly discouraged,” Schmitz also said on Tuesday. “The potential of death or injury to pedestrians on the expressway, no matter how righteous the cause, is enormous.”

Schmitz also met with the liberal priest, hoping to persuade him to change his plans for the Saturday protest.

For his part, Pfleger was gleeful over the idea of getting arrested and has refused to alter his plans. “They’ll close any expressway when a president comes into town, they’ll close it for every event that’s been going on in this city, they close it down Lake Shore Drive for the Bulls.” Pfleger said. “Why don’t you close it down for people and for lives?

Chicago police are also unhappy with the protest, saying that the demonstration will take police officers from the very south-side neighborhoods most in danger of gang shootings. But Pfleger was undaunted, saying, “If they say doing this will pull officers from the most needed neighborhoods in the city of Chicago then pull them from the North Side.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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