President Obama is scheduled to travel to Chicago at the end of this week. And although the White House hasn’t yet made his agenda clear to the public, many are hoping that Obama will address the issue of gun violence that has rocked the nation’s third largest city.
Civil rights leaders, elected officials, clergy and Chicago residents have long called on the president to come to his former city to help draw attention to the problem of gun violence. The issue has been particularly pronounced in Chicago, which last year had more than 500 homicides. There were 43 homicides in January of this year.
“After the incident at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, there has been a lot of attention on assault weapons,” said Illinois state Sen. Kwame Raoul, in an interview with BET.com.
“But those aren’t the focus of our problems. It’s the economic conditions of the neighborhoods where so much of our incidents occur,” said Raoul, who represents the district that once was served by Obama. “And I would like to see a discussion of the underlying conditions that lead to such a high number of gang members, a crumbling school infrastructure, high dropout rates and blighted commercial strips,” he said.
Raoul also represents the district where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed in a Chicago park by gun fire. First Lady Michelle Obama came to Chicago on Saturday to attend the funeral of Hadiya, who performed as a majorette in the president’s most recent inaugural events.
Still, many said they would like the president himself to return and take on the issue.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is one who has for some time called on the president to return to Chicago and address the city's high level of violence.
“What I was calling for was not something political, but a moral appeal,” said Jackson, speaking with BET.com. “It’s a moral appeal based on a state of emergency. Guns are just one dimension on a four-legged stool. You have to address, guns, drugs, poverty and the mortgage crisis. Because the president was an organizer in Chicago, he knows the complexities of the problem better than most people. And I expect that he will address them.”
Young people have also been vocal about the need for more gun control laws.
“I would like to see the president deliver a message that includes ways to deter kids from turning to guns,” said Justin Haynes, a 26-year-old technology consultant who works for a communications company in Chicago.
“I would like to hear him talk about things like after-school programs, sex education, parent child workshops and funding for stuff like that,” said Haynes, who lives in the Roseland section on the South Side of Chicago. “I think stricter gun laws are not the only answer.”
Dominique James, a 17-year-old senior at the Walter Payton College Prep High School, said that the issue of gun violence is closely linked to the quality of education in the Chicago schools.
“I think the president should discuss the issues facing the Chicago Public Schools,” she said. “I think education is one of the ways to deal with the issue of gun violence. The gun violence among youth might be better addressed if we had better schools that all students could attend.”
Willie B Cochran, a Chicago Alderman, said he would like to see the president address the issue of violence “with a holistic approach to dealing with the problem.”
“The solutions should be based on economic development, job creation, early childhood education and so many other things," Cochran said. “I would like to see him bring federal dollars to hire maybe 1,500 new police officers. If we can bring resources to other countries who are fighting wars, we can bring resources here.”
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