Obama, Emanuel need to put Chicago’s kids first

On the Chicago block where that 3-year-old boy was shot in the stomach, a victim of the city’s murderous gang wars, there was a woman watering her flowers.

“Please don’t put my name,” she said, her thumb directing the spray. “Don’t put my name.”

John Kass2

Her arm kept moving back and forth on a sunny day in the 4400 block of South Sacramento Avenue, a neighborhood of two-flats where tourists don’t go.

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It was clean and tidy, and I remember it as a boy, with the Polish and Lithuanian housewives scrubbing the sidewalks with bleach and broom.

“I came here 20 years ago,” she said, still watering. “It was good. Now they shoot all the time. They shot a baby right there the other day. A baby. Now I want to leave, but how can you sell the house?”

She pointed with the hose to where the child had been shot last week. The water spattered on the sidewalk.

This child lived, but others don’t. They’re gunned down almost every day in Chicago, their places of death marked by makeshift shrines, and later commemorated in funerals where the dead are told they will never be forgotten.

Their families remember them. But the city forgets. There are new ones all the time.

From that spot on South Sacramento where the boy was shot, it is some 3,000 hard miles southeast to the state of Francisco Morazan, one of the most violent areas of Honduras.

Children and teenagers from Honduras, we’re told, trek across Mexico to the U.S. border, where they and others from Central America cross over illegally and seek aid.

And President Barack Obama wants to help them. He’s asked for $3.8 billion to tend to their needs.

As a father, I feel for those kids on the border. But a father’s responsibility is to his own children first.

And a president’s responsibility is to his nation’s children first, especially if they’re being shot down in his political hometown. American children are his priority.

The border crisis is in part the Obama White House’s making. Soon, I expect, he’ll use it as an excuse for executive action on immigration policy that he could never get through Congress before November.

“You never want a serious crisis go to waste,” said Obama’s chief of staff in 2009, a fellow named Rahm Emanuel. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”

Emanuel is now the mayor of Chicago, and the other day announced that he wanted Chicago to accept a thousand refugees.

Of course, he gets the politics of this. The mayor is seeking re-election and he’s having troubles with African-American voters. He doesn’t want to upset the Hispanic vote as well.

If you’re from Chicago, you understand the politics too. It’s about using the violence of Central America and the young refugees as a fulcrum so Obama can apply federal leverage, as Democrats tie up the Latino vote for generations.

There is a ruthless logic to it. And Rahm’s correct. Chicago politicians never let a serious crisis go to waste, even if they helped create it.

What’s been surprising is the silence of African-American leaders, from politicians to clergy to civil rights groups.

They stand mute while resources go to the border and not to Chicago, where it is needed most. Just think of what Chicago could do with $3.8 billion for public safety, or a good chunk of that cash?

Instead of paying for additional police, politicians wring their hands at funerals of gang victims. But the dead are inevitably crowded out by new names.

Out on the block where the boy had been shot, I ran into a mother picking up her children from school.

She is of Ecuadorean descent, a nursing student, and she grew up in Little Village in a large family. She and her brothers and sisters didn’t join gangs.

“Our parents wouldn’t let us,” she said. “The girls stayed inside and cooked. The boys went with my father to work. It wasn’t easy. But we made it.”

She left and an SUV filled with younger men slowed. I asked but they didn’t want to talk to me about the boy who’d been shot. The SUV sped off.

An ice cream man thought I might buy something, but he turned abruptly when I asked about the child.

Two other young guys walked up. One had a goatee; the other was trying for a mustache and failing.

“I don’t know anything about it,” said the goatee guy even before I got the question out of my mouth.

Then came the postman pushing his cart. He said he didn’t know either. He said it loudly.

“That’s the neighborhood, man,” said the postman, laughing. “You look like some kinda priest, not a reporter. But who knows anything? No one.”

A mother and two little boys with crew cuts came out of a two-flat. I asked about the shooting and the 3-year-old boy. She said she couldn’t understand me. She understood all right.

“I’m not afraid,” she said in English, putting her hands on the boys’ necks and pushing them quickly back inside. “I’m not afraid.”

I just wish the Chicago politicians in the White House and City Hall could have heard her insisting she wasn’t afraid, as she closed that door on a sunny afternoon.

(John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM. His e-mail address is: [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.)

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