Chicago Activist Compares City’s Violence to Hurricane Katrina

Father Michael Pfleger is a Catholic priest who has worked for decades to curb the level of gun violence in the city.

Posted: 07/15/2014 03:42 PM EDT

A second consecutive violent weekend in Chicago has led a leading activist in that city to call conditions there as being similar to the impact of Hurricane Katrina and has called for a comprehensive set of actions to solve the problem of gun violence.

Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest and a well-known social activist in Chicago, gave his take on gun violence in the nation’s third largest city, where there were more than 22 shooting incidents injuring at least 31 people and leaving three dead, according to the city’s police.

“Katrina came in and we saw abandonment or at least a neglect in dealing with the issue,” Father Pfleger said in an interview with BET.com, referring to the 2005 hurricane that left more than 1,800 dead.

“My belief is that a lot of people who were displaced and died did so because of neglect. I’m worried about the same thing happening in Chicago. If we don’t respond, we’ll be made accountable for the violence that is overtaking the city.”

Pfleger's social activism has brought him a great deal of attention from the media in Chicago and across the nation. A German-American who lives on the South Side of Chicago, he has frequently worked with African-American religious, political and social activists such as Jeremiah Wright, Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte. He is the senior pastor of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church on the South Side of Chicago.

“If you had 82 people shot in Iraq in one weekend, there would be a major strategy to ensure it didn’t happen again,” Pfleger said. “When we have it in Chicago, where the people affected are Black and brown, it’s just another weekend in Chicago.”

Pfleger has called for a wide range of actions to curb gun violence, including providing more resources for education and after-school programs, neighborhood revitalization programs and enacting national gun-control measures.

“There are solutions. But it takes courage and the solutions need to be comprehensive,” he said. “We seem to focus on having more police and blaming parents. Some have called for bringing in the National Guard. I’m very much against having the National Guard coming in.”

He continued: “If you look at the neighborhoods with greatest violence, they are areas of the city with poorest schools, the greatest lack of opportunity, no economic development. If your neighborhood looks like a Third World country, how do you feel valued living there?”

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn renewed his call for new laws to curb the availability of assault weapons and large ammunition magazines.  

"There are too many victims of a war being waged on our streets, a war fueled in part by the availability of deadly, military-style assault weapons that have no purpose other than killing," the governor said.

Pfleger agreed that one of the big problems is the ready availability of guns to Chicagoans despite gun-control measures enacted in the city.  

“I can go now and buy 200 guns in the suburbs and there is no accountability,” Pfleger said. “That’s one of many things that need to change.”

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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