NEIL STEINBERG: Rev. Jackson waiting in vain for Obama to come to girl’s funeral
BY NEIL STEINBERG firstname.lastname@example.org February 3, 2013 7:44PM
President Barack Obama wipes his eye as he speaks about the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington2. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:26AM
There are countless places President Barack Obama will not be this Saturday — the moon, my living room, Mitt Romney’s pool. So knowing one of them for near certain is not a very big deal.
That said, and as reluctant as I am to predict the future, I am confident that Obama will not be in Chicago on Feb. 9 for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old honor student gunned down Tuesday in an apparently random shooting.
Why? First, because the Rev. Jesse Jackson publicly demanded that Obama do so. The president has fashioned a fairly thriving career for himself, and if I had to name just one reason how he did it, I’d point to his habit of doing the exact opposite of whatever Jesse Jackson would do in any given situation and saying the exact opposite of whatever Jesse Jackson would say. (Translation: no politics of racial resentment, no nimbus of vanity, no rhyming, rococo, five-dollar words).
And second, because the president being there is a bad idea. Symbolic gestures are not going to solve gun violence. You may have noticed that 20 children being slaughtered in Newtown, Conn. — about as thunderous a piece of symbolism as can be imagined (and which did include a presidential visit) — only got people talking about guns, but the conversation is still stuck on how much Americans really, really love their guns, and many would prefer the nation to devolve into a free-fire zone before they entertain the notion that 270 million guns may be too many.
Chicago’s murder epidemic is a separate, if related, matter. The cruel irony — one of many — is that grieving parents in Chicago have to struggle to piggyback onto the national concern for the lives of white suburban first-graders. They see the national catharsis and can’t help asking, “What about OUR kids? Why is killing them by the hundreds, but in regular batches of one or two, the accepted daily harvest of strange fruit, while 20 at a time of yours is a crisis?”
At which the nation yawns, or did, until it found a victim it deemed worthy of passing attention. The flip side of the commotion given to Hadiya Pendleton is the unspoken implication that the other victims, who aren’t her, somehow deserve it. As if being a 17-year-old male with bad grades and a shoplifting conviction makes a person worthy of violent death, since his life is meaningless anyway. Isn’t that why we always talk about kids being shot? We need that extra dollop of innocence to jump-start our frozen hearts and make us care; slain adults are assumed to have it coming until proven otherwise.
Jesse Jackson is appealing for outside help because that is what he does. But the carnage in Chicago is a federal problem only in that our nation’s ocean of guns sloshes into Chicago — despite the city’s strict laws. I can’t tell you how many gun zealots wrote to me this week gleefully crowing about the murder rate in Chicago as being proof of the ineffectiveness of any kind of gun control, as if the city weren’t ringed by gun stores and linked by highways to every backwoods Glock Galleria happily supplying Chicago street gangs. It’s like saying that surgeons shouldn’t bother to wear gloves or wash their hands because infections still happen in hospitals, despite attempts at disinfection, which proves the whole cleanliness effort a waste.
Forget the president. Let’s instead ask: How does a teen become a killer? Start with his mother being a teen herself. The father of course isn’t there. The school system is a shambles, not that the kid’s spending much time in school anyway. No education means no decent job, and the only chance at money and a kind of dignity are street gangs. Then mix in lots of guns, and you can figure out the rest from there. If I were Barack Obama, I wouldn’t rush to Chicago to pretend to drop a wrench into that engine of misery by flashing a smile. “When the president shows up, it shows ultimate national seriousness,” Jackson said. Pretty to think so. But murders in Chicago still don’t receive ultimate national seriousness — that would be reserved for football and the 2nd Amendment. If the parents of the kids doing the killing, ruining other lives and their own, don’t care, why expect the president and the rest of the nation to care? This has to be fixed block by block, house by house, family by family, kid by kid.
“You Were Never in Chicago” has been out for a few months, but I’m still doing the occasional event to ballyhoo its publication. This Tuesday, I’ll give the keynote speech at the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce’s 36th annual membership meeting at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport. The festivities start at 8:30 a.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door, but include both breakfast and a copy of the book, so really the event is practically free.