axelrod files

Editor’s Note: The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works at the institute.

Story highlights

Pfleger has led Saint Sabina Church on Chicago's South Side since 1981

He says there is a need to rebuild the bridge between communities of color and the police

Chicago CNN  — 

Father Michael Pfleger has been an outspoken crusader against street violence in the parish he has led on Chicago’s South Side for more than 35 years. He says lack of police accountability has exacerbated the crisis and fostered a climate that stops witnesses from coming forward.

“We can’t begin to come to the table to build the bridge if there has not been accountability on both sides,” Pfleger told CNN senior commentator David Axelrod on “The Axe Files” podcast, produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “What I scream and holler all the time is that if you shoot and kill somebody in Chicago, whether you are a cop or you are a brother on the corner, you have to go to jail.”

Pfleger says a history of abuse by police officers who have not been held accountable has created a gulf of mistrust that must be bridged in order to make common cause against violent crime in the community.

“It’s so important that we rebuild this bridge,” he said. “If people don’t trust the police, they’re never going to talk. … There’s fear, and I understand the fear. I understand the fear and the code of silence in the police department, I understand it in the street, it’s the reality, but fear is either going to polarize us and consume … or it’s going to motivate us to say let’s do something about it. … I keep wondering when’s the tipping point when people say ‘you know what, the community says enough.’”

Chicago became a flare point for the debate over police accountability last year when a tape was released showing the death of Laquan McDonald, an unarmed teenager, who was shot by police in October of 2014. This episode of “The Axe Files” was taped before the recent shooting of Nykea Aldridge, a 32-year-old Chicagoan and cousin of Bulls guard Dwyane Wade.

Jeremy Van Dyke, the officer who fired 16 shots at McDonald as the teen walked away, has been indicted for murder. Seven other officers were dismissed earlier this month by Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for filing false reports in the McDonald case.

During the hour-long interview with Axelrod, Pfleger, a Chicago-native who has led Saint Sabina Church on Chicago’s South Side since 1981, spoke about the need to rebuild the bridge between communities of color and the police both in Chicago and across the country, noting that the recent announcement by the CPD and Johnson was a positive step.

“It sends a message to all police,” Pfleger said, that if “‘you do this kind of stuff, you’re going to be fired. This is not going to be tolerated in my regime, there’s no coverup going on under this.’ On the other hand it sends a message to the community, ‘I’m going to hold bad police accountable.’”

To hear the whole interview with Father Pfleger, which also touched on how Martin Luther King Jr. influenced him as a young teenager, his relationship with the Archdiocese of Chicago, his work with Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, the reality of gangs today, his thoughts on Hillary Clinton and more, click on To get “The Axe Files” podcast every week, subscribe at