A plea to the Obamas: Save Chicago from its gun violence
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Nov. 26, 2011. (Jewel Samad / Getty-AFP)
A humble plea, if I may, to Barack and Michelle Obama: Come home and fight the gun violence that plagues Chicago.
Set aside politics and launch an all-hands-on-deck, multi-faceted task force. Identify and solve the deeply entrenched, tragically entangled challenges that allow gunfire to steal our kids, terrorize our neighborhoods and sap our belief that it will ever be any other way.
Do we need more police? Better support for the police we have? Stricter enforcement of gun laws? Longer sentencing for repeat offenders?
More jobs? Better schools? Mentors?
Where do we start? When does it end?
We’re lost. We’re broken and defeated by the violence, and we’re nowhere close to agreeing on what to do about it. And while we argue, children keep dying.
Takiya Holmes was 11. My daughter’s age. She could have been my daughter’s classmate. I could have held her hand and walked through Lincoln Park Zoo or the Museum of Science and Industry, chaperoning her field trip and giggling with her about crushes and movies.
Kanari Gentry-Bowers was 12. Her fellow sixth-graders signed a banner that her principal brought to the hospital.
Lavontay White Jr. was 2. When I look at his photo, I see his tiny hand and I think about how tender you have to be when you trim a toddler’s fingernails.
They all died violently in the last week. And they’re but three in a sea of children this city has sacrificed.
More than 250 kids under 14 have been shot in Chicago since 2012, according to data compiled by my Chicago Tribune colleagues. All three of the shootings that killed Takiya, Kanari and Lavontay have likely ties to gang conflicts, police sources tell Tribune reporters.
It’s a familiar refrain: "gang rivals," "gang-related shooting," "ties to gang conflicts."
Our elected officials seem unable to stanch the blood. Competing loyalties, clashing priorities, differing politics — they all get in the way. Enough.
Our humanity has to transcend our politics.
You are Chicagoans, Mr. and Mrs. Obama. You know this city’s people and its potential. You know its sidewalks and its streetscapes. You know its history.
And you know its heartbreak.
Soon enough, Jackson Park will give rise to the Obama presidential library. How about embarking on an even bigger legacy?
How about taking your community organizing, your diplomacy, your law degrees, your friendships, your networks, your gift for compromise, your desire for social justice and pointing them our way?
Come home. Bring your ideas and your knowledge and your power and get people to the table.
In "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," Mr. Obama wrote this:
"What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem."
"And yet publicly it’s difficult to find much soul-searching or introspection on either side of the divide. … What we hear instead, not only in campaigns but on editorial pages, on bookstands, or in the ever-expanding blog universe, are deflections of criticism and assignments of blame."
That was 2006, and the subject was America as a whole. But it could just as well be Chicago in 2017.
"Of course," the book continues, "there is another story to be told, by the millions of Americans who are going about their business every day. They are on the job or looking for work, starting businesses, helping their kids with their homework and struggling with high gas bills. … They are by turns hopeful and frightened about the future."
There are pockets of Chicago where people are only frightened. Hope is lost. People can’t watch babies getting shot and stay hopeful. People can’t live through 4,000-plus shootings and 700-plus homicides in a year, like Chicago did in 2016, and stay hopeful.
You could work to change that.
I was in Grant Park on Nov. 4, 2008, the night you were elected to lead our country. I watched you both walk onto the stage with your daughters. I watched this city embrace you and all that your victory had to offer.
Eight years later, the same city — many of the same people, no doubt — embraced your family again when you bid us farewell from the stage at McCormick Place. We know you’ve traveled (and changed) the world, but we will always claim you as our own.
Come back. Change Chicago. A library is lovely, but it won’t save any lives.
We need you to remember our city’s promise, and we need you to help us live up to it.