Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, step in to help stop shootings
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org July 19, 2012 12:26AM
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan at the Unity March, "Walking the Ward," on Monday evening, July 16, 2012. | Photo by Keevin Woods
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:56AM
On Monday night, residents in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the city’s South Side witnessed the might of the Nation of Islam.
Despite temperatures that hovered around 100 degrees, black men in dress suits and bow ties fanned out across the neighborhood to form a human wall of protection against any sudden outbreak of gunfire.
The army of men, known as the Fruit of Islam, was responding to a call put out by Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan after last month’s tragic killing of 7-year-old Heaven Sutton on the West Side. Her murder is part of the unrelenting bloodshed plaguing Chicago this year, causing the murder rate to spike.
It’s forced Farrakhan out of the luxury of the Nation’s palatial headquarters in Chicago and onto the street, leading 500 Fruit of Islam members out into Auburn-Gresham to help combat the violence.
The 80-year-old leader walked with his followers, and took the lead in confronting an evil that is frustrating law enforcement, civil rights activists, clergy and residents.
Traditionally in the Nation of Islam, Monday is set aside for male training classes. But Farrakhan ordered those classes canceled across the country and sent the men into the street.
“It was historic. I had residents crying — men and women that have been in the community fighting — crying to see it,” said Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th). “The minister had 500 well-dressed, well-spoken black men in suits go out on the street. They weren’t all with the minister. They spread out. We gave them some of our hardest locations in the 6th district.”
Farrakhan is regularly condemned in mainstream media for comments about Jews. For that reason, he rarely speaks to the press.
Last year, he was widely criticized for his support of Libya’s long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was being pursued and was later killed by Libyan forces.
So it is not surprising that Farrakhan declined to discuss details of the street campaign.
Instead, he issued a short statement through a spokesman:
“I do not want to talk at this time because we have done too much talking already and not enough action. So we are focusing our attention on action and we want to let our results, God willing, speak for us,” the statement said.
In the past, Farrakhan has chosen to deliver his messages at the group’s annual Saviour’s Day gathering. Occasionally, the Nation of Islam leader will speak from the pulpits of friendly local pastors.
“What I saw was a number of brothers in all different sections of the area passing out DVDs of the minister’s speeches, as well as folders with the ‘Million Man Pledge,’ ” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of “The Faith Community of St. Sabina Church.”
“They were interacting. They were saying we can live in peace,” he said.
Pfleger said the men walked in formation similar to a scene from the Spike Lee movie “Malcolm X.”
“Now, the kids have seen it live on the street,” Pfleger said. “Seeing these powerful young brothers of the Nation in suits and ties on the streets gives encouragement and hope.”
Monday’s march is just the beginning of a campaign that is striving to recapture the positive self-awareness that followed the Million Man March in 1995.
“They were knocking on doors. The minister would actually tell these young men and women they had the capacity to be leaders, that they were just walking in the wrong direction and he wanted to help them go in the right direction,” Thomas said.
“They really listened. People were thanking me for asking them to come out. And those guys and women who are not doing right, they respect the nation. Those 500 men didn’t have weapons on them. They spoke. It was an awesome sight.”
A similar event is scheduled for next Monday in South Shore, an area that has also experienced an uptick in violent crime.
According to information on the organization’s website, the plan is to create a local organizational structure made up of members of the Nation of Islam and other stakeholders, activists and community organizations.
A similar effort is under way in more than 100 cities where the Nation of Islam has a mosque or study group.
According to Thomas, the Chicago Police commander in the 6th Police District was also involved in the march.
“He said if the Nation’s presence remains, then it frees them up to do other things,” Thomas said. “The night of the march, the entire district didn’t have anything going on. No violence.”
In a written response from the Chicago Police Department, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy appears to support the actions taken by the Nation of Islam.
“The Chicago Police Department welcomes the support of faith-based organizations to help lend a voice to the violence and other challenges affecting our neighborhoods and most importantly, our children,” the statement concluded.
After saturating the street with images of hundreds of black men committed to keeping the peace, the Nation of Islam will leave a small contingent of men in the area to work with the clergy, activists and community residents to keep the community safe.
“The Nation’s presence calls out an empowerment — not from the law enforcement — from the neighborhood brothers. That is what causes this empowerment,” Pfleger said.
“I think that is the most powerful message of all. We’re here. We can do this. We can stop the violence.”