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Day 2 of protest at construction site leads to one arrest and plenty of tension

The second day protest led by Ed Gardner over lack African American hiring constructisite 92nd   Western. Tuesday September

The second day of a protest led by Ed Gardner over the lack of African American hiring at the construction site at 92nd & Western. Tuesday, September 25, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 27, 2012 6:24AM

For the second straight day, an 87-year-old retired Chicago businessman disrupted a South Side construction site Tuesday with his demand that more blacks be put to work.

If he has the stamina to keep it up, somebody is going to start taking him seriously.

This time Soft Sheen Products founder Edward Gardner and a small group of African-American supporters forced an all-Hispanic work crew pouring a new sidewalk in the 2200 block of W. 95th Street to temporarily shut down the city-financed project.

The work stoppage followed a brief standoff in which Gardner stood behind a cement truck as other protesters ordered the workmen to put down their tools.

“Pack up your bags. Go to su casa. No more work today,” taunted one protester unnecessarily. Tensions were high and got higher when some of the demonstrators vandalized a small patch of newly-poured wet cement.

In a sign of the times, everyone on the work crew whipped out a cell phone camera to document the altercation.

Chicago police arrived and arrested a man who was accused of pushing one of the workers. I didn’t see it, and I don’t think Gardner was aware at first either as everything started to get a little helter-skelter.

After a foreman for the Sumit Construction crew agreed to stop work, the cement truck left and Gardner returned to the nearby work site he had protested Monday—a new shopping center being built on Western Avenue just north of 95th in Evergreen Park.

Soon thereafter, work on the sidewalk project resumed, with a few black CDOT workers sent over to help create a more racially-inclusive picture.

The talk at the protest site earlier in the morning had been that Gardner was planning to get himself arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

That scenario didn’t take into account that he needed to drive his wife downtown at mid-day for a doctor’s appointment. Such are the complications of a protest movement led by an octogenarian.

There undoubtedly are a lot of people in high places around town scratching their heads and wondering what Gardner is really trying to accomplish, who is putting him up to this, and most of all how to bring him under control.

Having spent the better part of two days with him and his supporters trying to get a better handle on some of those questions for myself, I can report there is reason for those folks in high places to worry.

What ought to scare them most is that Gardner is exactly what he appears, a cantankerous but well-respected old man who is sincerely determined before he passes from this earth to try to deal with the biggest problem facing his community — the lack of job opportunities and how that feeds into the drug trade and the violence claiming so many young black lives.

That he is targeting Hispanic workers for some of his anger I find unfortunate and misplaced, and I’d like to see him rethink that part of his campaign before it turns ugly. I’m also aware that this comes at a time of too few job opportunities for everyone, no matter their race.

But campaign is the wrong word here. There are no indications of a carefully-mapped strategy plotted in advance.

This is a spur of the moment thing, with Gardner making it up as he goes along. Heck, I’m not sure he really even knew where he was going when he veered onto the Evergreen Park shopping center site.

Sure, many of the usual suspects have rallied to his, but none of them can purport to speak for him or cut a deal to make him go away.

The only thing that is going to satisfy Ed Gardner is to see more black faces on job sites.

Gardner’s effort is showing signs of gaining momentum in the African-American community, which is following his moves on black talk radio.

Gardner is an icon among older black Chicagoans because of the many people he employed at Soft Sheen and also for his important behind-the-scenes role in helping elect Mayor Harold Washington.

In 1983 Gardner founded and continues to finance the Black on Black Love organization with the stated goal of replacing black on black violence with love, respect and self-discipline. In July the city paid tribute to him and his wife Betty with an honorary street sign.

Gardner announced Tuesday he wants 10,000 people to join him at 95th and Western at 3 p.m. Sunday to protest the lack of jobs for blacks.

That would definitely be taken seriously.

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