(Trice Edney Wire) – In rare remarks about his hometown of Chicago, President Obama has called for an end to the scourge of gun violence that has plagued America for decades in Black neighborhoods and is becoming increasingly common in mass shootings in unpredictable places such as schools, movie theatres and among civilians on military bases.
“And finally, we can’t rest until all of our children can go to school or walk down the street free from the fear that they will be struck down by a stray bullet,” the President said to applause at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner Saturday night. “Just two days ago, in my hometown of Chicago, 13 people were shot during a pickup basketball game, including a 3-year-old girl. Tomorrow night I’ll be meeting and mourning with families in this city who now know the same unspeakable grief of families in Newtown, and Aurora, and Tucson, and Chicago, and New Orleans, and all across the country – people whose loved ones were torn from them without headlines sometimes, or public outcry. But it’s happening every single day.”
The last time President Obama spoke as strongly about gun violence, it was in his State of the Union Address Feb. 12, only weeks after the Jan. 29 shooting death of majorette Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago teen, who had participated in his inaugural parade. That was also only two months following the mass shooting of 20 children and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“We fought a good fight earlier this year, but we came up short. And that means we’ve got to get back up and go back at it. Because as long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we’ve got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children. We’ve got to be ones who are willing to do more work to make it harder,” he said to applause.
The President also indicated his understanding that gun control alone is not the answer. Among the hardest hit neighborhoods around the country, including Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia; and New Orleans are places that are also plagued by gross poverty, drugs, gangs and hopelessness – topics that the President also rarely address, but, vaguely alluded to on Saturday.
“So we’ve got to do more to rebuild neighborhoods, help some of the hardest-hit towns in America get back on their feet,” he said. “We’ve got to raise the minimum wage. Nobody who works full-time in the wealthiest nation on Earth should have to raise their children in poverty. Those are fights we need to win.”
In Chicago, the 3-year-old boy, among the 13 shot Sept. 19, remains in critical condition after he was shot in the cheek. No one was killed in that particular shooting, but at least two other minors were also injured. Deaths by homicide have become a regular occurrence in American cities. Last year, more than 500 were killed in Chicago,
Talks of gun control legislation fizzled out early this year as Republicans and Democrats remain polar opposites on the political issue. As Black newspapers and media have long reported on the struggle to end the carnage based on the need to address deep social issues, the debate over guns and gun laws was thrust back into the national media last week after 12 people were killed by a mass shooter at the Navy Yard in Washington. The shooter was then killed by police.
The morning after the CBCF dinner, President Obama spoke at a memorial for the victims. His remarks recalled just how common violence really has become in America.
“On the night that we lost Martin Luther King Jr. to a gunman’s bullet, Robert Kennedy stood before a stunned and angry crowd in Indianapolis and he broke the terrible news. And in the anguish of that moment, he turned to the words of an ancient Greek poet, Aeschylus: “’Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’”
Robert Kennedy himself would be felled by an assassin’s bullet only two months later. His brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated five years earlier.
Despite the increasing commonness of America’s gun violence, the press to end it has been mainly by those who refuse to accept it. President Obama has promised to be one of those – driven by the quest to end the human suffering.
“The tragedy and the pain that brings us here today is extraordinary. It is unique. The lives that were taken from us were unique. The memories their loved ones carry are unique, and they will carry them and endure long after the news cameras are gone,” he said at the Navy Yard Memorial. “But part of what wears on as well is the sense that this has happened before. Part of what wears on us, what troubles us so deeply as we gather here today, is how this senseless violence that took place in the Navy Yard echoes other recent tragedies.”
Facing a political uphill battle, what the President is able to do about the tragedies and how, remains a mystery. But, concluding his speech to the CBCF, he at least promised to stay committed: “We’re going to have to keep marching. And I’m proud that I’ll be, at least for the next three and a half years here in Washington and then a whole lot of years after that, I’m going to be marching with you.”