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Chicago gun protesters close part of major interstate near downtown

Demonstrators marched Saturday on all five northbound lanes of Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway, bringing part of the interstate to a standstill after police officials who’d planned to keep the stretch partially open relented.

Hundreds of marchers, led by the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church, are protesting the city’s high gun violence rates. They’re calling for “national common sense guns laws” and, for their communities, more public resources, more jobs, better schools and economic development.

March organizers walked late Saturday morning onto northbound Interstate 94 between 79th and 68th streets after a tense encounter with police.

Initially, a line of police officers and their parked vehicles essentially split the northbound highway in half, intending to allow marchers to walk in the right two lanes while keeping two left lanes open to traffic.

But marchers, including Pfleger and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, demanded all five lanes.

“We will not march on the side of the highway. We’re marching on the highway,” Jackson said by megaphone.

“Shut it down!” and “Black lives matter!” the crowd shouted.

Illinois State Police eventually shut down all five northbound lanes to vehicle traffic along the march route, allowing demonstrators to march the full width.

‘We came out here to shut it down’

Pfleger expressed frustration that police had tried to restrict the marchers, and he rejected any notion that he’d agreed to the police barrier.

“We never negotiated anything,” he told CNN affiliate WLS. “We came out here to shut it down.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, tweeted that the complete shutdown of the I-94 stretch was “unacceptable.”

“We had clear parameters that allowed the protestors to be heard while respecting law and order. Instead, they chose instead to cause chaos,” he said.

Pfleger rejected Rauner’s comment.

“Gov. Rauner tried to make it chaos. He tried to be an obstruction,” Pfleger told CNN affiliate WGN.

Shortly before the march, state police director Leo Schmitz told reporters: “Illinois State Police will take necessary steps to ensure we prevent (anyone) from getting hurt.”

“This whole thing is great if no one gets hurt and we can get it done,” Schmitz said.