The clamor continues for President Obama to attend the funeral
of 15 year old honor student Hadiya Pendleton gunned down on a Southside
Chicago street. There's even an online petition on the White House website
imploring Obama to attend. The petition delicately sidesteps the issue of race
and whether black lives are less valued than those of whites. But the glaring
fact is that Pendleton's murder unlike that of countless other virtually
nameless and faceless young African-American victims of murder violence in
Chicago and other inner city neighborhoods made national news because she had
returned to Chicago just days earlier from performing at Obama's inaugural
Obama has certainly not ignored Pendleton's horrendous murder. He
deplored the killing and offered compassion and support directly to her family.
The family has publicly expressed their appreciation for his outreach to them.
However for many that's simply not enough. The constant carp is that Obama went
to Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut and expressed sympathy for the
victims of the mass slaughter in both places. They incessantly remind that
blacks, and that foremost includes blacks in Chicago, have been the biggest,
most enthusiastic of his supporters, and in several states pivotal to his
election and reelection triumphs.
The heavy inference is that Obama owes blacks more than just
distant words of support, but concrete action. And since gun violence has been
a relentless and horrific plague in poor black communities, and he's on a
crusade against it, Pendleton's funeral should be a mandatory stop for him to send
the strong message that black lives are just as important as any others. These are painful points to ponder.
But the Pendleton killing as shocking and horrendous as it was,
and like the hundreds of other blacks gunned down in Chicago streets the past
couple of years, is no different than other controversial cases that involve apparent
racial issues. In every case, Obama has been pressed to speak out on, and in
this case, show up on.
The push for Obama to attend Pendleton's funeral, though, begs
the question of whether he has a special obligation to appear at every victim
of violence's funeral. The answer is no.
Obama, as all sitting presidents, almost always avoids involvement in
controversial local issues, and that's the key. Murder violence is a local
issue, handled by local authorities, and local communities, and for presidents
to interfere is to step into a political minefield that would do far more harm
than good. It would violate the rigid separation of federal and state powers.
It would open the floodgate for any and every individual and group that has a
legal wrong, grievance, or injustice to expect, even demand, that the president
speak out on their cause. And in the case of a local neighborhood murder that
garners news mention, the demand that the president attend the funeral of the
victim and show support. After all, if he did that for one victim, he'd always
be slapped with the demand that he do it for other victims.
Even presidential statements on a controversial issue have
polarized, and fueled political backlash. In fact, the Pendleton slaying is a
near textbook example of the fury and passion that racial leaden cases and
issues always stir. Obama is African-American and there's rarely been a moment
during his tenure in the White House that he hasn't been relentlessly reminded
of that. The one time that he gingerly ventured into the minefield on a
racially charged local issue was his mild rebuke of the white officer that
cuffed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009. The reaction was instant
and rabid. Polls after his mild rebuke showed that a majority of whites
condemned Obama for backing Gates and, even more ominously, expressed big
doubts about his policies.
The murders in Chicago on the surface do not appear to have any
racial implications. But underneath they do because they raise painful
questions. Why do so many young blacks wantonly wreak mayhem and murder on
their own? Why do police and public officials often seem helpless to stop the
killings? Why is it that so many young black males feel so abandoned, hopeless,
and alienated from society? What part do the towering problems of failing
public schools, Great Depression joblessness among young black males, and the
relentless cutback in family support and skills training programs have in
escalating the violence? Should the victimizers solely be blamed for the
violence or is society a culprit too in failing to deal with the social and
economic crisis in ghetto communities?
The Pendleton murder cast another horrific glare on the gaping
racial disparities in how the lives of young blacks slain in inner city
neighborhoods in contrast to those of suburban whites are publicly viewed and treated.
It stirred a soul search on how the lives of young blacks are routinely
devalued by so many, and the need for renewed local and national action to be
taken for that to end. There are no easy answers to the plague of black murder
violence whether Obama personally attends Pendleton's funeral or not.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
is an author and po litical analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al
Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New
America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on
KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet
TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on