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Rachel Jackson, (left to right), Malcolm London and Janae Bonsu hold hands for four minutes in Daley Plaza as part of the National Moment of Silence for victims of police brutality. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Chicago activists say poverty helped spark Ferguson unrest

Chicago civil rights leaders on Thursday decried the violence that has gripped Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, saying such civil unrest and police confrontations could happen in Chicago or elsewhere when issues of poverty and justice mix.

Leaders of Rainbow PUSH, the NAACP and Urban League lauded President Barack Obama’s assurance at a news conference Thursday that the U.S. Justice Department has intervened, and will thoroughly investigate the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in that St. Louis suburb, but said it may not be enough.

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“A spark has exploded,” said Rainbow PUSH founder the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “When you look at what sparked riots in the ‘60s, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles.



“It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago,” he said.

Brown’s killing — with conflicting accounts coming from police and witnesses — sparked several days of protests that morphed into riots and looting. Law enforcement from 19 jurisdictions responded over the last three days, and reportedly peaceful protests were met with heavily armed police in military fatigues, armored trucks and rifles.

The crisis peaked on Wednesday night, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets, arresting journalists and ordering all media out of Ferguson.

Protestors also have criticized the lack of information officials have provided about the shooting.  

On Thursday, Obama addressed the crisis and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon promised a change in police tactics.

“I have an 18-year-old son who starts college next week. He is Michael Brown,” said Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp.

“This high level of militarization of the police response to a community that is simply frustrated and challenged in trying to understand what they view as senseless violence and a lack of transparency and response from the police, is distressing.”   

Nationwide, activists organized a moment of silence to honor Brown and others killed in controversial police-involved shootings.

In Chicago, a rally was held Thursday at Daley Plaza.

Karl Brinson, president of the NAACP West Side branch, said television reports of the shooting and protests have shocked him.

“At first I thought I was watching something occurring in a foreign country,” Brinson said. “And then it brought back memories of watching footage from the 60’s.”

He added, “The interesting part is that we get all this flak from police about the community ‘no snitch’ rule, and complaints of how they can’t get people to be forthright with them, and yet, the police play by the same rule. The community wants information, and they refuse to provide it because it’s one of their own.”