07.09.14 9:45 AM ET
Obama, Why Aren’t You in Chiraq?
Eighty-two people got shot in our president’s hometown on the weekend marking the nation’s birthday, and he apparently felt no obligation to rush there.
He instead flew off to Denver for fundraising and a speech some of his fellow Democrats are ducking. He goes from there to Texas for more fundraising.
But he also saw no need to go home last year, when that Fourth of July weekend saw more than 60 people shot in Chicago, including a 5-year-old named Jaden Donald.
The boy was hit by a stray round while in a park that has a playground named after Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham, who was shot to death just across the street in 2010, after surviving two tours in Iraq.
In the city that has come to be known as Chiraq, the mother of little Jaden stood outside a hospital emergency room entrance, her clothes stained with the blood of a son who was always happy and loved bicycles and Spiderman.
“This senseless shooting has to stop,” Jasmine Donald said.
As this latest Fourth of July weekend approached, Chicago police deployed hundreds of extra officers at particular times and hot spots with the hope of avoiding a repeat of the previous year’s carnage.
They seized more than 100 illegal guns and seemed to be having some overall success until Sunday leading into Monday, when there was a paroxysm of violence that left 30 people shot.
The final tally for this year’s Fourth of July weekend was again a startling number. And 16 of the 82 died.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Groundhog Day in Chicago,” said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy at a press conference on Monday.
Actually, it was some 20 shootings worse than a repeat. And McCarthy was seeking no comfort in statistics that show Chicago’s murder rate is down this year, to the lowest level since the 1960s. He declared the carnage unacceptable
“There has to come a tipping point where this changes,” McCarthy said. “The illogical nature of what’s happening here—that government can intercede and prevent this from happening—is overwhelming. And I refuse to think otherwise in a great country like America that we can continue to allow this to happen—not just on a state, but on a federal level.”
McCarthy started out with the NYPD and was part of the historic effort that transformed New York into the safest big city in America. The violence in Chicago is often explained by a deeply ingrained gang culture that fractured into hundreds of factions after the big leaders were imprisoned. One anomaly of this past holiday mayhem is that a significant number of the shootings were not gang-related. But they were all gun-related.
“Everybody asks me what’s the difference between New York and Chicago,” McCarthy said. “I can tell you very simply—proliferation of firearms.”
He posited the equation behind the mayhem.
“There’s too many guns coming in and too little punishment going out.”
He noted that possession of a loaded firearm is not even classified as a violent crime under Illinois state law.
“When I chase people in New York, they throw away their guns,” he said. “When we chase people here in Chicago, they keep the guns.”
He further observed, “There’s a greater sanction from the gang members who lose that firearm from their gang than there is to go to jail for possession of that gun.”
That factor may have come into play on the Fourth of July, when police encountered 14-year-old Pedro Rios Jr. Police say the youngster was armed with a big .44 caliber revolver that had been reported stolen in Michigan and had somehow ended up in his waistband.
His father, Pedro Rios Sr., would later suggest that the boy might have been carrying the gun for a gang. A police “audit” conducted by another cop who had gone from serving in Iraq to serving in Chiraq found that the boy’s relatively small and compact neighborhood has 17 factions.
Rather than ditch the gun and run as a New York kid might, the younger Pedro allegedly pointed it at the officers. The officers had reason to believe that a teen that young or even younger can still be a deadly threat.
On June 30, a 13-year-old described as an admitted gang member had walked up to a trio of teens in the Washington Heights section of Chicago just as a summer storm was sweeping the city. He produced a gun and shot all three, hitting two in the head.
Five days later, cops now found themselves facing a 14-year-old with a gun, and they fired. The incident would likely have received little more attention than did the three teens gunned down by the 13-year-old had Pedro not been one of five people shot by police on the holiday weekend where such an astonishing number of people fell victim to bullets.
Pedro died, as did a 16-year-old who also is said to have refused, Chicago-style, to drop his gun. The two had a role model in Chief Keef, the city’s most famous rapper, who was 16 in 2011 when he pointed a loaded gun at police officers, who fired at him and missed. Keef received probation and was briefly confined to his grandmother’s house. She later marveled at the noise he and his friends generated while using the time in her home to make his first hit, “I Don’t Like.”
“Pistol toting and I’m shooting on sight…We ain’t gon’ fight, our guns gon’ fight,” he raps in a video, one version of which has more than 11 million views on YouTube.
Keef subsequently signed a lucrative recording deal with Interscope. He moved into a rented suburban mansion with a marble bathroom that he used as a backdrop for Instagram photos of himself and a buddy brandishing various pistols and assault rifles, fantasy images to feed the mayhem.
Perhaps because the ongoing violence claimed a cousin or maybe figuring to play both ends against the middle, Keef agreed to appear in a stop-the-violence, “put down the guns” concert just outside the city in June. The event was then canceled for fear it would trigger violence.
In the meantime, the Chicago police continued to seize illegal guns by the hundreds and McCarthy continued to call for tougher laws. He became a leading voice against the gun lobby, speaking with the moral authority of a profoundly decent and honest cop who witnesses the madness day after day.
“If there was a special interest influencing police work, I believe that would be called corruption,” McCarthy said at one point. “So, if it has to do with donating money, versus a popular vote, I think we have a bigger problem in this country and someone has to wake up to that.”
In May, the murder rate was down 5 percent from the year before, though shootings were up 6 percent. You still could watch the youngsters running and laughing at the Officer Thomas E. Wortham IV Playground on the fourth anniversary of his murder and hope for better times to come.
Wortham had been killed just days after attending the annual national police memorial in Washington, where he had listened to Obama speak and where he had run in a race wearing a T-shirt bearing the badge number of a murdered friend and fellow officer. He had just finished showing his parents photos of the president and of the ceremony when he stepped outside the family home to encounter some robbers.
The playground had been posthumously named after Wortham in recognition of his efforts as head of the park advisory council to make it a haven for area youngsters and their families. There could have been no better place for Obama to have visited when he happened to come to Chicago this past May 22, three days after that fourth anniversary.
Obama instead attended a pair of fundraisers in the wealthy north side of the city. He was just returning to his home on the South Side when a 14-year-old named Kevin Diaz became the latest Chicago teen to be shot to death.
On June 27, the Friday before the Fourth of July, a 17-year-old was shot in the back and critically wounded in a drive-by outside Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH headquarters, just around the corner from Obama’s home. Jackson was inside at a meeting and he came rushing out.
“We’re six doors from the president’s house,” he noted.
That shooting brought the total to at least four in the vicinity of the Obama house since 2011. Two were close enough that the Secret Service detail parked outside likely heard the gunfire but were unable to respond. Their foremost duty is to keep the president’s home on the South Side of Chicago safe.
The president had returned to Washington by that Monday night, when a 17-year-old was fatally shot five blocks from Obama’s house. The teen lay in the street fighting for his very last breaths as rain fell and a local resident held his hand, telling him that help was coming, but the arriving paramedics could do nothing more than pronounce him dead. He was one of five kids that age or younger who were shot in Chicago that night.
Then came the Fourth of July. The 16 dead among the 82 who were shot included Tonya Gunn, a 44-year-old who loved to cook and had just finished making steak tacos on an outdoor grill at a family barbecue at her grandfather’s house. She was chatting with relatives and friends when gunfire erupted from two passing vehicles. Her 11-year-old daughter, Destiny, was nearby but escaped injury, and relatives kept her from witnessing her mother’s desperate attempt to stay alive as people called out, “Keep breathing! Keep breathing!”
Gunn had worked more than 20 years for the University of Chicago, most recently as a dispatcher at the maintenance department. She was a well-respected employee there when Obama was a professor at the law school.
Now Obama is the president, thanks in part to his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. His absence from home in a time of need would be more understandable if he were too busy with the horrors following our withdrawal from Iraq to address the horrors in Chiraq.
But he was flying off to Colorado and then on to Texas to raise money when he should have been standing next to McCarthy to say enough is enough and then maybe walk the streets. He could still attend the funeral for a woman who dedicated her working life to the day-to-day running of the university that helped make him.
Meanwhile, four young women were walking under a South Side viaduct on Monday evening when a gunman rode up on a bicycle. A single shot rang out, and three of the women fled. The fourth, 19-year-old Jaynisha Scheffer, fell beside a bus stop with a fatal wound in her back.
She was one of eight people shot during a four-hour period in the president’s hometown.