CHICAGO—President Barack Obama returned home to Chicago Friday and as expected, gave a spirited discussion on the gun violence issue troubling the city, leading into his plans for strengthening the economy, presented in this week’s State of the Union address.
Speaking to a crowd of about 700 people at Hyde Park Career Academy, less than a mile away from his Chicago home, Obama suggested stricter gun legislation, strengthening urban economic conditions and increasing community and family involvement could help create a safer city.
Obama’s visit, less than a week after Michelle Obama attended the funeral of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, struck a chord with many in the audience as he acknowledged her parents. Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya’s father, said he’s “very, very optimistic” about Obama’s plan for tougher gun laws, tighter background checks and fostering a more involved community.
Sending a message to people who have seen his family’s life play out on television over the last few weeks, Pendleton said, “Don’t turn your back. Pay attention to what’s happening out here and get involved. You never expect this tragedy to knock on your door. And when it does, then all of a sudden we’re all gung-ho there. But, there are preventative measures. So let’s try to prevent it instead of waiting for it to happen.”
“It’s not unique to Chicago. It’s not unique to this country,” Obama said of the gun violence issue. “Too many of our children are being taken away from us.
Obama said tragedies such as Pendleton’s murder and the killing of 20 students and 6 faculty members in Newtown, Connecticut are “precisely why the overwhelming majority of Americans are asking for some common-sense proposals to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.”
Obama noted that the violence rate in Chicago equates to “a Newtown every four months.” Last year, there were more than 500 murders in Chicago, 443 murders with a firearm and 65 of those victims were 18 and under.
Annette Nance-Holt, the mother of 16-year-old Blair Holt, who was murdered in 2007 after someone fired shots in a Chicago Transit Authority bus, shared moments with Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Hadiya’s mother, minutes before hearing Obama speak. Both families had been in Washington, D.C. this week to attend a Senate hearing on the issue that changed their families forever. The Pendletons were special guests of Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address.
Since her son’s death, Holt’s been an advocate for gun safety. She said that she’d gladly help enforce the president’s plans, and hold lawmakers accountable. “The people here, they need to rally behind the president, because he can’t do it all by himself,” she said. “It’s up to us to push his initiatives and what he wants to see have happen.”
During his speech, Obama also said strengthening families and filling in gaps where fathers are absent would help create a safer Chicago.