If I could have five minutes with President Obama my primary objective would be to implore him to speak publicly and forcefully on the human carnage that is occurring in our nation’s cities as a result of gun violence. I would make an impassioned plea for him to return to Chicago, his political hometown, where on Tuesday 15 year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, who had attended his inauguration just days ago, was gunned down in a city park. Without hesitation I would ask the President to consider that his family lives in a city – Washington, DC – but have the good fortune of being shielded from the ugliness that has infested urban outposts across America and weighed upon countless families. Unlike the N.R.A., my point is not to begrudge the President’s deserved and expected ring of protection. Rather, it is to make the contrast of his idyllic residency in a tough urban community and the reality of too many mostly Black and Latino parents in urban America who are on the receiving end of that dreaded call or police visit in their cities.
And, I would ask the President not to “think” about it or weigh the political risk; but simply let his father-wit return him to the Windy City to make the case for tougher federal gun control laws.
We wept over the senseless murders of little children in a Connecticut school house and should be just as appalled and devastated by the murder of Hadiya and the hundreds of other young people in our cities. Chicago has become the emotional center of the gun epidemic but the Windy City is not alone in racking up the body count. Our children are living in urban killing fields and they need their President to acknowledge their pain and vulnerability. It is not enough to simply deem Hadiya’s death a tragedy and lump her on the pile of forgotten city children who were struck down by bullets that are as prevalent as fireflies in the summer. The lives of these children matter and our nation must be shown the full consequences of our collective failure to enact responsible measures to curb gun violence.
Several years ago during a conversation over lunch with former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, the topic of violence in Chicago came up. Bob indicated he was about to conduct research for a book he was contemplating writing about the staggering number of homicides of young people in the city. We both struggled to pinpoint a reason for the bloodshed and the more I recall that conversation the more I understand now that the reason really doesn’t matter. Trying to make sense out of this insanity is an intellectual exercise that we neither have the time or the luxury of entertaining. We need action and we need the President to use his considerable influence to bring the murders of city children to the nation’s attention and place the lives of these kids at the center of the gun control debate.
If the President is truly unbound in his second term, we need him to abandon his first term cautiousness in crossing the race line and to frame the deaths in Chicago, Detroit and countless other cities in the same manner as the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. There can be no greater signal to America that Black and Latino children matter, and their lives are valued, than having the President of the United States speak from a neighborhood in Chicago behind a podium with the presidential seal.
Our children in cities cannot simply be treated as collateral damage, and I am certain that is not the mindset of this President. Still, by his failing to specifically focus on urban violence he leaves their deaths in a vacuum; only briefly relevant for the news cycle or community vigil. Moreover, from a coldly calculated perspective, the African-American and Latino communities are two constituencies that can tip the gun control debate and they represent voting blocs the Republican Party needs but has little to offer. A Republican Party seen as going against the nation’s new color collective in this debate will hasten its own demise; further making itself irrelevant. If there was ever a time for this President to shuffle the race deck, the time is now. Hadiya and so many other Black and brown youth are laying in eternal sleep, silenced before their time and unaware if anyone besides their family will cry over their deaths. There is significance in the first African-American President speaking to the safety and security of Black children who can claim no such grand aspirations as occupying the White House when their present reality forfeits their lives before they reach voting age.
Mr. President, please speak for them.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.