Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday August 14th, 2014, 12:08pm

Chicago Activists Hold Peace Walk Against Violence (VIDEO)

Hundreds of Chicagoans and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn participated in a peace walk against violence Wednesday evening in the city's Humboldt Park neighborhood.

The event kicked off at New Life Covenant Church, 3400 W. Division St., and ended with a candlelight vigil in remembrance of those who have been killed by violence in Chicago.

"The strongest force on earth is when people of good faith come together for the common good to do something very important," Quinn told the large crowd inside the church before the walk. "I believe in non-violence. I think it's so important that we, by our walking, show our neighborhood we're going to fight the violence, and we're going to be peace makers."

Wilfredo De Jesus, pastor at New Life Covenant Church, said 240 people, including 11 in Humboldt Park, have been killed in the city due to gun and other forms of violence so far this year.

As the group walked down Humboldt Park's streets chanting, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" parents, youths and other peace activists held up pieces of paper with the names of the 240 individuals who have been killed by violence. Others carried photos of their loved ones who have been murdered.

"We've lost a lot of kids to violence, so we're looking for peace and justice," author and civic leader Robert Renteria told Progress Illinois. "We're looking to solve these murders that are put into a file cabinet, and we're also looking to save the kids that are here by providing teaching tools to help inspire them, motivate them, make better life choices to understand that gang banging and violence is not a lifestyle, but a death-style. And the ultimate weapon is not a loaded gun, but an education."

Leaders at New Life Covenant Church distributed 500 copies of Renteria's book to youths and families at the peace walk, as well as others in the community. The book, "From the Barrio to the Board Room," details Renteria's struggle of growing up poor in the barrio of east Los Angeles to ultimately becoming a successful businessman.

"We can't continue to sweep [violence] under the carpet and become immune to the issues," Renteria added. "We have to speak ... loud as a community."

Local Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), who also took park in the event, said violence prevention starts with strong parental and community involvement. 

"We have a great responsibility to raise our kids in the right way," the alderman told the crowd before the walk. "Kids are like sponges. They absorb the good things, and they absorb the wrong things. We as a community, we as a parents, we as the village in our neighborhoods, if we display the right values to our kids, that is what our kids will absorb."

But others at the peace walk said the problem of violence in Chicago and elsewhere is much deeper.

"If we peel back the layer, I truly believe that if we wanted to clean this mess up, we could," said Michero Washington, president of Safe Streets, a local organization working to promote and maintain safe streets through collaborations.

"There are too many people profiting from what's going on. Profiting from death [and] incarceration. You have young people, black and brown predominantly, that are locked up sometimes ... two to three years before they've even gone to trial. This is no accident. I tell parents, if you don't have a plan for your kids, someone else does. It's based on third-grade reading scores, they determine how many jails they're going to need. This stuff is predicted," said Washington.  

"There is a lot of people making a lot of money by what's going on here," she added. "Police. [The] judicial system. Hospitals are making a lot of money. Funeral homes are making a lot of money. The people who sew the jail uniforms are making tons of money. Everybody's making money based off of death and destruction."

Washington said the peace walk is important because it provides families impacted by violence a place to have their voices heard. 

"For too many of them, there's no answers. There's nobody interested. The police department is doing nothing," she said. 

Elizabeth Ramirez with Parents for Peace and Justice agreed with Washington's comments.

Ramirez's 22 year-old son Harry "DeeJay" Rodriguez was fatally shot in 2011 at his birthday party on the West Side. A masked gunman came into the party and fired shots. And although some party attendees provided information to the police about the shooter's identity, no one has been arrested in connection with her son's murder, Ramirez said.

"Nothing has been done," she said. "I want justice for my son."

Ramirez's son held a full-time job and was studying to become a sports coach.

"He wanted to help kids," she said. "My son didn't ever get involved with gangs. Wasn't on the corner selling drugs. He was working a 40-hour job and going to school to become a coach."

"This is not about us, this is about our children," she said of the peace walk."Yes, I want justice. But at the same time I want peace, because the children that we still have with us deserve to live in a peaceful world."

Here's more from Ramirez, scenes from the peace walk and comments from West Sider Zerlina Smith, an Action Now member:

The walk against violence took place just over a month after the bloody Fourth of July weekend in Chicago, during which 16 people were killed from shootings and more than 60 others were injured.

Still, Chicago police officials say murders in the city are on the decline.

In the first seven months of this year, "murders were down 55 percent from 20 years ago, down 40 percent from 10 years ago, and down 7 percent from last year's record-setting low," Chicago Police Supt. Gary McCarthy said at a city council hearing earlier this month on how the department collects, uses and reports crime data.

Several people at the peace walk, however, questioned the police department's statistics. 

"(McCarthy) was appointed by the mayor. The mayor is trying to be mayor again. So (McCarthy) is not going to say, 'Everything is going to hell in a handbasked,' because then that would say, I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Washington said.

Smith, with Action Now, said there is a disconnect between the city's crime numbers and the community's perception of safety.

"Crime is where we live," she said. "We have to do our best as communities to let the issues be known." 

Wednesday's demonstration in Chicago also follows the fatal police shooting over the weekend of an unarmed young black man in Ferguson, Missouri. The Saturday killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown has gained national attention and sparked outrage in the majority black St. Louis County suburb. 

"From everything from Trayvon Martin to this case to whatever example we want to say ... You have this mixed bag of things going on — good people put in bad positions, bad people put in powerful positions," Washington explained.

In general, Washington said there is a sense of frustration in communities over the lack of communication between average citizens and police departments.

"We don't hear each other. We don't listen," she said. "We have people on this hierarchy who feel that they know best of what we need, and they have no clue."

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