The little girl was Heaven Sutton, and earlier shootings in her Chicago neighborhood had left her so frightened that she had begged her mother to move someplace where a child could play outside without fearing a stray bullet. The most her mother could promise was a trip to Walt Disney World next month, and the child had just gotten her hair done in anticipation of the trip.
In the meantime, her mother had been trying to bring some peace to the street by opening up a makeshift candy and snow-cone stand on the theory that it would keep kids on the block and out of trouble. She could do nothing about trouble coming onto the block, as it did late Wednesday night in the form of two young men who suddenly appeared from the shadows of a narrow alleyway.
One of the men had a gun in his hand and began firing at a group of young people near the candy stand where Heaven was sitting with her mom, Ashake Banks. The mother reflexively hugged the pavement. Heaven’s instinct was to dash for the safety of home. Everything she had feared all those times that she’d begged “Ma, let’s move” came horribly true, as a stray bullet struck her in the back. She kept going, as if she could still get away from it, and managed to get through the front door.
The mother found Heaven sprawled in a hallway, bleeding and unconscious. Paramedics arrived and rushed her to Loyola University Medical Center, but she was beyond saving. The 20th youngster under age 17 to join the list of people shot to death in Chicago this year was a magical little girl who loved to dress up, who always had a way of making people smile, and who proved in every way how right it was she was named Heaven.
She was not the youngest little girl on the list. That tragic distinction belongs to 6-year-old Aliyah Shell, who also was sitting outside with her mother when gunfire erupted on her block. The mother, Diana Aguilera, was doing Aliyah’s hair in preparation for a birthday party on a sunny March afternoon and pitched forward to shield her. But Aliyah was seized by the same impulse that would grab Heaven, and she leapt up to seek the sanctuary of home. A bullet fatally struck her before she could take a step.
A 13-year-old boy was shot to death a few days after Aliyah was killed, and another 13-year old was shot to death a few days before Heaven was killed, and there were too many other youngsters in between. But the two little girls are what should force Obama to finally break his shameful silence about the carnage in his home city.
Obama clearly has made a political decision that tackling health care has been tough enough, and that all he could accomplish by seeking real gun control would be to lose the chance at a second term. But how will he be able not to think of Aliyah and Heaven the next time he walks a Chicago street with his own Sasha and Malia, as he did on the way to the wedding of senior adviser Valerie Jarrett’s daughter on June 16? How will he be able to look at his 11- and 13-year-old girls and not consider the two much younger girls who had no Secret Service agents with dogs and magnetometers to protect them amidst hundreds of thousands of illegal guns?
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg needed only visit a wounded cop in an emergency room to know he had to take a stand against illegal guns, whatever the possible impact on his political ambitions. Police officers keep getting shot, but Bloomberg is able to tell himself that at least he has done all that any mayor could.
Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is now mayor of Chicago and trying to follow Bloomberg’s lead in a city that has four times New York’s murder rate, a city where homicides are up more than 35 percent and as many as 50 people are shot in a weekend.
What Chicago needs is for its foremost citizen to finally speak up and say too many children have died. Obama proved at Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral that he can deliver a stirring eulogy. Maybe he could prepare one for the little girl who was so rightly named Heaven and only wanted peace.