Crosses Marking Chicago Death Toll

Gang violence has fueled a staggering death toll in Chicago, much as military violence has spread death and chaos over large swaths of the world, reminding Kathy Kelly of the need for an “eternal hostility” toward killing.

By Kathy Kelly

This New Year’s Eve, 750 heavy wooden crosses were distributed to a gathering of Chicagoans commemorating the victims of gun violence killed in 2016.

One of more than 750 crosses carried in a Chicago rally commemorating homicide victims on New Year’s Eve. (Photo credit: Ed Juillard)

Rev. Michael Pfleger and the Faith Community of St. Sabina Parish had issued a call to carry crosses constructed by Greg Zanis. The crosses, uniform in size, presented the name and age and, in many cases, a facial photo of the person killed. Some who carried the crosses were relatives of the people killed. As the group assembled, several sobbed upon finding the crosses that bore the names and photos of their loved ones.

Those carrying the heavy crosses along Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” of high-end shops and restaurants knew that other arms than theirs were aching … aching with longing for loved ones who would never return.

In 2016, more people were killed in Chicago by gun violence than in New York City and Los Angeles combined. The number killed represented a 58 percent increase over the number killed in 2015.

“How could this happen?” – was the question asked on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

It was a year of social service program shutdowns driven by the Governor’s office in Springfield. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s description of a triplet of giant evils, each insoluble in isolation from the others, helps us identify an answer to the Tribune’s question. King spoke of the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.

Training for, and the diversion of money to, wars overseas was a crisis inextricable from the race crisis at home, as were policies promoting radical wealth inequality. Representative Danny Davis, of Chicago, whose grandson was killed by gun violence in 2016, insists that “poverty was fueling the city’s bloodshed, and that Chicago needed to make investments ‘to revamp whole communities.’”

Poverty and racism clearly interact: Blacks and Latinos comprise 56 percent of the incarcerated population, yet only 30 percent of the U.S. population. A report documenting the rates of incarceration for whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics in the Illinois state prison system notes that over half of this prison population is black. For every 100,000 people in the state, 1,533 black people are imprisoned as compared to 174 white people and 282 Hispanic people.

The consequences of incarceration affect entire communities: former prisoners are restricted in terms of employment, their families are disrupted, housing becomes unstable, they become disenfranchised, and stigmas persist.

Global Slaughters

We must also consider gun violence in relation to U.S. militarism. Gun violence in Chicago is condemned, as it should be, and yet a message to every one of the 9,000 Chicago Public School children participating in U.S. military junior ROTC programs is that killing is acceptable if you are following orders. Killing of civilians by the U.S. military is considered regrettable but acceptable “collateral damage.” These killings eliminate “high value targets.”

President Barack Obama at the White House on April 28, 2015, making comments on the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray apparently from injuries suffered at the hands of police. (White House photo)

The mere suspicion of harboring a targeted person in a home, restaurant, or mosque becomes an excuse for an airborne drone attack to execute whole families or communities. Ironically, this policy enacts an airborne version of a drive-by shooting.

Soldiers who have seen combat are less likely to praise the virtues of military life. “The myth is that the military teaches discipline,” say the Chicago area Veterans for Peace, in their “education not militarization” campaign. “The reality is that the military teaches children to follow orders without question and to use the military solution to conflict resolution – that is, death and destruction.”

President Obama had tears in his eyes in January 2016, calling for relief from record-breaking shootings and killings in the U.S. Yet 2016 became a record-breaking year for U.S. export of weapons to other countries. The U.S. is responsible for nearly 33 percent of worldwide weapon exports — by far the top arms exporter on the planet.

“Arms deals are a way of life in Washington,” writes William Hartung. “From the president on down, significant parts of the government are intent on ensuring that American arms will flood the global market and companies like Lockheed and Boeing will live the good life. … American officials regularly act as salespeople for the arms firms. And the Pentagon is their enabler. … In its first six years, team Obama entered into agreements to sell more weaponry than any administration since World War II.”

Carrying a cross along Michigan Avenue, I thought of the terrible slaughter in World War I that killed 38 million people. Elites, weapon-makers, and war profiteers drove millions of men into the trenches to fight and die in the war that was to end all wars.

Christmas Truce

In 1914, mired in mud, war-weary and miserable, troops on both sides took matters into their own hands. For a brief, yet magnificent time, they enabled the “Christmas truce.” One account relates how some German troops began singing one of their carols, and British and other troops then sang a carol from their side. As voices wafted across the no-man’s land, troops began calling out to one another.

British and German soldiers exchanging headgear during the Christmas Truce of 1914. (From The Illustrated London News of Jan. 9, 1915)

“Time and again during the course of that day, the Eve of Christmas, there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a German were to be heard shouting out lustily, ‘A happy Christmas to you Englishmen!’ Only too glad to show that the sentiments were reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider, ‘Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o’er eat yourself wi’ they sausages!’”

“The high command on both sides took a dim view of the activities and orders were issued to stop the fraternizing with varying results. In some areas, the truce ended Christmas Day in others the following day and in others it extended into January.”

Dr. King said, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit, and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

The soldiers in those trenches went out into their no-man’s land and showed the world one way to end wars. They should never have had to. It was left to them to venture into the no-man’s land, risking exposure to the others’ fire and their generals’ punishment for disobeying orders.

No matter what gang is issuing the orders to kill, whether a massive military power or a smaller group that has acquired weapons, we can all claim our right not to develop, store, sell or use weapons. We can claim our right not to kill and not to live with the memory of having killed. “Declaring eternal hostility” to the fear, greed and hate which are our real enemies seems to be our true hope. We can lay aside forever the futility of killing. We can be hopeful and determined that our resources and ingenuity are directed toward meeting human needs.

Kathy Kelly ([email protected]) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (

5 comments for “Crosses Marking Chicago Death Toll

  1. Mary
    January 2, 2017 at 20:48

    Agreed, Kathy Kelly, agreed.

  2. Zachary Smith
    January 2, 2017 at 19:44

    The author used underlining. Has it been enabled for comments?


    Edit: No, it hasn’t.

  3. Zachary Smith
    January 2, 2017 at 19:39

    This essay was missing any links to help readers get some kind of a grip on “why” and “how” this violence is happening. So I’m contributing one of my own, even if it’s “moderated” till Thursday.

    Trump blasts Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel for record-setting 762 homicides and 4,331 shooting victims in 2016

    A part I thought was significant was this:

    He noted 2016 was the first full year since the city was forced in November 2015 to release video of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the black 17-year-old boy who was shot 16 times by a white police officer.

    The video cost former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy his job, sparked major protests around the city, and led to federal and state investigations of the police department.

    This leads me to the theory also spoken of by unnamed “critics” in the article that the Chicago Police Department is on a slow-down action. They’re a spoiled bunch used to unrestrained goonery and torture and total denial of prisoner rights and until they have a totally free hand again to do all that again, they’re going to eat a lot of donuts and work on getting even fatter butts.

    Yes, I’m in central Indiana and that’s just my idea, but I’d argue it makes more sense than notions about ROTC programs or US violence overseas being somehow the cause of this. That may or may not be the case, but without a speck of evidence being provided the connection strikes me as a logical fallacy – Association fallacy (guilt by association and honor by association) – arguing that because two things share (or are implied to share) some property, they are the same

    I’ve never heard a single good thing about Chicago Government, and specifically Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He’s one of Obama’s thugs who left DC to hoist the values of Holy Israel on a major midwest city. I suspect he is a big part of the 2016 problem in one way or another. After all, it would be his job to keep his police busy, and I suspect he hasn’t been doing that. Neoliberal cutbacks in city services are more his thing.

  4. Brian
    January 2, 2017 at 16:27

    Aug 4, 2016 Black Guns Matter: A Few People at the Top Are Trying To De-Arm Urban Communities

    This is an interview with Maj Toure, Founder of Black Guns Matter, a firearm training and education organization based in Philadelphia. Toure says, the movement against firearm owners is driven by a few people at the top, and that firearm ownership makes the community safer.

  5. Brian
    January 2, 2017 at 16:26

    December 28, 2016 *Gun-controlled* Chicago fast-approaching 800 homicides for 2016

    At first, the 2016 murder figures for gun-controlled Chicago drew attention by hitting 500, which was 32 higher than the total number of murders in 2015. Then the number of murders rose to 700, followed by a Chicago Tribune report that the number of murders between January 1, 2016, and December 6, 2016, hit 731.

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