In a return to a hometown that has been the scene of high-profile gun violence, First Lady Michelle Obama Wednesday offered an impassioned and emotional appeal for more emphasis on neighborhood programs and youth activities that would offer an alternative to deadly behavior.
At the same time, she condemned the conditions that, she said, create an environment for gun violence to fester. The nation has an obligation, the first lady said, to provide answers to the problem of violence that has become too widespread.
“Thousands of children in this city live in neighborhoods where a funeral for a teenager is considered unfortunate, but not unusual…where wandering onto the wrong block or even just standing on your own front porch can mean putting yourself at risk,” she said. (Read the full transcript of the first lady's comments.)
Obama spoke at an event sponsored by the Chicago Public Safety Action Committee. The event also included Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spoke of the need to invest more in youth programs.
In her remarks, the first lady made repeated references to the life of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Chicago honors student who performed with a marching band at the Obama inauguration festivities and was shot to death the following week.
The killing of the teenager in a park not far from the Obama’s Chicago home placed national attention on the issue of gun violence in urban areas. Michelle Obama attended the funeral for the teenager, who police said was shot in a case of mistaken identity by gang members.
“Those are the odds that so many young people are facing in this city — young people like Hadiya Pendleton, whose funeral I attended back in February,” she added, clearly showing deep emotion. “This city and this community will be judged not just by the beauty of our parks and lake front, or the vitality of our businesses, but by our commitment to our next generation.”
The first lady also used the occasion to call for something that has been a singular focus of President Obama in recent weeks: pressing Congress to vote on gun control measures. In fact, her Chicago remarks came just two days after the president traveled to Connecticut to call for gun-control legislation as a means of honoring the 20 children and six educators who were shot at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Right now, my husband is fighting as hard as he can, and engaging as many people as he can, to pass commonsense reforms to protect our children from gun violence,” she said to the audience in Chicago, echoing words the president used earlier in the week. “And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/Paul Beaty)