Chicago priest puts a "bounty" on heads of killers

While reporting on Chicago's surge in violence, 60 Minutes producers meet a priest who isn't waiting for a savior to stop murderers

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2016 was a violent year in Chicago.

Since last New Year’s Day, more than 700 people have been murdered and more than 4,000 people shot. The death toll is so high that it’s driving up the murder rate for America’s biggest cities.

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Bill Whitaker and a team of producers — Guy Campanile, Andy Bast, and Michael Radutzky — tell the story of that violence. The situation on the city’s South Side is so dangerous that some cops advised Campanile to wear a bulletproof vest when filming at night.

He refused.  

“It bothered me that I had to wear body armor in an American city,” Campanile tells 60 Minutes Overtime’s Ann Silvio in the video above. “We’re not talking about a third-world country. We’re not talking about some war zone in the Middle East. We’re talking about Chicago, Illinois.”

Fifty-nine gangs are at war over territory and drugs in Chicago’s west and south sides. Makeshift memorials of balloons and teddy bears mark the spots where residents, often children, were caught in the crossfire.

The violence is so pervasive that Father Michael Pfleger, a priest with the largest Catholic congregation on the South Side, isn’t waiting for a savior — he’s taking it upon himself to find murderers by offering rewards for information leading to an arrest.

“When a child is shot and killed in this city—in the South Side in particular—and there’s no idea of who may have done it, I put a $5,000 bounty on the head,” Pfleger tells Whitaker. “We’ve given out about 24 rewards over the last 10 years. I have 12 out right now.” 

60 Minutes producer Guy Campanile talks with Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church on the South Side CBS News

Correspondent Bill Whitaker describes Fr. Pfleger as “a force of nature.” He is the pastor of St. Sabina Church, where he has served the community as a spiritual guide — and activist — for 41 years. But the violence in the last year is remarkable, even by South Side standards.

“I’ve never seen there to be a combination of anger, distrust, and a feeling like communities have been abandoned,” Pfleger tells Whitaker on the broadcast.

Flora White feels that abandonment.

“They forget this part of Chicago,” she says. “The part of Chicago where you can’t go to a store. The part of Chicago where you can’t get out of your car and say ‘hi’ to an old friend. The part of Chicago that, if you’re walking down the streets taking your kids to school, and you get gunned down.”

In July, White’s son, Jonathan Mills, was on his way to practice with a former basketball coach when he was shot dead. Investigators say he had stopped to talk to friends outside a corner store, when he was killed by a gang member angry the men were on his turf.

As White told her story to Whitaker at the site of her son’s shooting, the 60 Minutes crew observed drug deals taking place a few yards away in broad daylight. During hours of filming there, the producers never saw any police presence in the area.

Business is good for companies that deal with murder. This man cleans up blood from gunshot sites CBS News

Data that 60 Minutes obtained from inside the police department reveals statistics that may help explain why. As killings rose over the last year, police activity fell. In August 2015, police stopped and questioned 49,257 people. A year later, that number was down 80%. Arrests had fallen by a third.

The crisis inside Chicago’s police department began in 2014 with the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Police had claimed he was lunging toward an officer with a knife, but dashboard video shows that he was moving away when a white police officer shot him 16 times. When a judge finally ordered the video released a year later, many people in the community were outraged.

Within six weeks of the shooting scandal, investigative stops fell by nearly 35,000 as violence surged.

During one reporting trip to Chicago, 60 Minutes associate producer Andy Bast found a man whose business is cleaning up blood from gunshot sites, including the backseat of resident Ashake Banks’ car. Banks was attending a prayer vigil for a 14-year-old who had been shot, when a local drug dealer showed up and opened fire, hitting an 8-year-old girl. Banks told 60 Minutes she picked up the girl, laid her in the backseat, and drove her to the hospital.

Ashake Banks drove an 8-year-old girl to the hospital this summer when she was shot attending a prayer vigil for a 14-year-old. Banks’ daughter, Heaven, was shot and killed in 2012. CBS News

That’s because Banks knew the risk of waiting for an ambulance. When her own daughter, Heaven, was shot a few years ago, she died in Banks’ arms while waiting for help to arrive. 

Listening to her story, producer Andy Bast was struck by how violence had repeatedly come to Banks’ doorstep.

“I stepped back and I said, this woman has had three shooting victims directly connected to her life, and they were all children,” Bast says. “How can that pass as normal?”

The video above was produced by Ann Silvio and Lisa Orlando. It was edited by Lisa Orlando.

Photo of Heaven Sutton courtesy of Ashake Banks