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CAROL MARIN: President needs to come home

DanyiBell left 16 ArtureanTerrell right 16 cry while looking photos HadiyPendletduring wake for sla15-year-old King College Prep student HadiyPendletGreater Harvest

Danyia Bell, left, 16, and Artureana Terrell, right, 16, cry while looking at photos of Hadiya Pendleton during the wake for slain 15-year-old King College Prep student Hadiya Pendleton at Greater Harvest Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, February 9, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:39AM



I wish the president was coming home.

As important as it was for the White House to be represented at the Chicago funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, and as powerful a presence as the first lady is, it was the other Obama who needed to be here.

The community-organizer-in-chief can offer what no one — absolutely no one else — can in terms of both symbolism and substance.

“He should walk around where he used to walk around,” said Dr. Michelle Gittler. “Because kids can’t walk around where they used to.”

Dr. Gittler is an authority on violence and victims. For 20 years she has treated hundreds, if not thousands, of young men of color at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital who are, if they were lucky enough to survive, no longer able to walk or move their arms or live their lives in a normal way once a bullet severed their spinal cords.

Chicago is the nation’s shooting gallery.

And in Gittler’s view — and the Centers for Disease Control — gun violence is a public health crisis.

“People in Chicago are not dying of the mumps, they are dying from gunshot wounds,” she said. “It needs to be treated as a preventive health issue.”

Unlike a flu virus that touches everyone from Kenilworth to Kankakee, this scourge is largely confined to poorer neighborhoods that a majority of us drive around rather than through.

And though there are pockets of wealth on the South and West Sides, like the Kenwood neighborhood the Obamas called home, Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down just a mile away.

She was beautiful and accomplished.

But as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle eloquently told the Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed, “Frankly, the deaths of any of our young people is a tragedy. Sometimes we make distinctions between those who are young and promising and those who are gang involved.”

Preckwinkle referred to redemption.

“A lot of troubled teenagers turn out to be responsible adults,” she said.

DeVoy Boyd, for instance.

Nineteen years ago, he was one of Dr. Gittler’s patients. Gang-affiliated, he was standing in Woodlawn Park after a homecoming dance in 1994 when a rival gang did a drive-by shooting, spraying a crowd of 30 people. One bullet to the spine and he was a paraplegic.

“Until I got shot, I’d never been out of my neighborhood. I didn’t know about any of the good things about our city,” he said on Friday.

He finished high school. Attended college. And headed Schwab’s “In My Shoes” violence prevention program. But he’s on medical leave now, fighting kidney disease that is a secondary consequence of being shot. Further underscoring Dr. Gittler’s assertion that Chicago’s violence constitutes a public health emergency.

President Obama has walked the streets where DeVoy and Hadiya were shot. Where no kids should walk now.

While the first lady’s visit will bring great comfort to the sorrow this city feels, we need her husband, too.

We need the president to come home.

As confronter-in-chief.



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