Urban gun violence is edging ever closer to President Barack Obama’s Chicago home.
Last week, 15-year-old Cornelius German was shot and killed in a backyard about four blocks from Obama’s house. Police said it’s likely that German’s death was gang-related. Days after his murder, no arrests have been made – and nobody’s talking.
A few days ago, a friend asked me this interesting question: “Would the Obamas ever move back to a neighborhood that is becoming more violent than when they moved away?”
It’s a good question.
I don’t know if President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama would move back to their same Chicago neighborhood after they leave the White House, but I do know the emotional issue of gun violence in America has touched President Obama in a way that perhaps no other American president has ever experienced. Obama is from Chicago, his home is located on the South Side of town, and the president knows that urban gun violence is rampant.
In fact, it’s a crisis.
German’s death comes about three months after the fatal shooting of another 15-year-old, Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down in a park about a mile from the Obama home in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. There’s an undeniable connection: Obama is black. The gunshot victims are black, too.
Moreover, Obama’s intense lobbying for gun control legislation on Capitol Hill is not working. Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a series of gun control bills that would have tightened background checks for buyers, loosened restrictions on carrying concealed weapons across state lines and banned both assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The president is doing the best he can: He is using his White House bully pulpit to push for gun control legislation but he needs help from Congress – Republican lawmakers who receive loads of cash for campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association and have no intentions of biting the hand that feeds them.
Meanwhile, Obama is reaching out to young black men in his Chicago neighborhood and beyond. In February, Obama spoke to 16 black male students attending Hyde Park Academy High School who are part of an anti-youth violence program called “Becoming A Man” (B.A.M.) that teaches at-risk students about violence prevention, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression and respect for women.
“This is very personal for him because he didn’t have a father,” Jarrett said of the president during a recent one-hour session at the White House with six African American journalists. “He was raised by a single mom so he knows the challenges.”
And, Jarrett added: “The president might say that at some point in his childhood he may have been at risk too so hopefully they will identify with him.”
Jarrett said the president chose to deliver his speech at the Hyde Park Academy High School because the neighborhood is a mile from his home — a predominantly black community of poor residents, urban blight, and unemployed black men, but it’s also an area that has seen progress in recent years with new housing and banks.
Next month, Obama is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta – an all-male, predominantly black institution.
Meanwhile, as the death toll rises in Chicago, my friend Michele Dowdy is still mourning the loss of her only child, Malcom Dowdy, 33, who was shot and killed nearly a year ago and his murderer still has not been brought to justice. Michele worries that police will never apprehend her son’s killer.
Malcom was not in a gang; he was not involved in a fight at the time of the shooting – he was simply a family man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was shot by mistake – and he was not affiliated with a gang. A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Malcom Dowdy was the assistant director of security at a Chicago company, a straight-A student at DeVry University, and the father of a one-year-old daughter.
But police are stymied because nobody in the South Side neighborhood is talking about Malcom Dowdy’s murder. The infamous “no snitch” rule that has permeated black communities across the country is widely in effect 24/7.
Malcom Dowdy was murdered on Memorial Day in Chicago last year, a particularly violent weekend where 40 people were shot and 10 died over three days. There were a total of 506 homicides in Chicago in 2012, the majority of shooting deaths involving black men.
“The shooter shot in the crowd at someone else and missed,” Michele told me. “To this day no suspects have been apprehended, a usual occurrence in Chicago. Someone saw something, someone knows something.”
In the meantime, as Obama continues to lobby a stubborn Congress to address gun control legislation, he is clearly aware that more black men and women are dying on the nation’s streets as a result of gun violence and, sadly, the bloodshed is flowing much closer to the president’s backyard.