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Kids In Chicago Vs. Kids At Virginia Tech...And Posh Spice

Here's the full text of the Bob Herbert column on Barack Obama and youth violence from the New York Times, which a kind blogger has posted so the rest of us can read it.  The educators among you will note in particular the classroom scenes, which include a teacher taking attendance only to find out that one of her students is dead -- and another classroom where an empty chair is being used to remind everyone of a missing student:

“In one Chicago public school,” said Mr. Obama, “a teacher was calling
attendance, and when she got to the name of a particular student who wasn’t
there and had missed a lot of classes, she asked if anyone knew where he was.
And the answer she got was, ‘He’s dead.’ ”

He mentioned another school: “In Room 104 at Avalon Park Elementary School,
an empty chair is pushed against the wall in memory of Quinton Jackson, the
eighth grader who used to sit there, and who was stabbed to death a few months
ago.”

Read the full text below, or see the link here.

July 17, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

A Voice Raised in Chicago

Senator Barack Obama took his presidential campaign to Chicago Sunday, where
he addressed an agonizing issue that has been largely overlooked by the national
media — the murder of dozens of the city’s public school students since last
September.

Speaking to an overflow crowd of worshipers at the Vernon Park Church of God,
Mr. Obama, a resident of Chicago, said:

“I asked to come here because I wanted to talk with you about the spate of
violence that’s been robbing the city’s children of their future. In this last
school year, 32 Chicago public school students were killed, and even more since
the school year ended. This past week alone, two teens were shot in a South Side
schoolyard.”

You’ve probably heard more than you wanted to about David Beckham and Posh
Spice in recent days, but not a lot about the deaths of these children and
teenagers in Chicago. Black, Latino and poor, they are America’s invisible
children.

“In one Chicago public school,” said Mr. Obama, “a teacher was calling
attendance, and when she got to the name of a particular student who wasn’t
there and had missed a lot of classes, she asked if anyone knew where he was.
And the answer she got was, ‘He’s dead.’ ”

He mentioned another school: “In Room 104 at Avalon Park Elementary School,
an empty chair is pushed against the wall in memory of Quinton Jackson, the
eighth grader who used to sit there, and who was stabbed to death a few months
ago.”

And he mentioned Blair Holt, 16, who was riding home from school on a city
bus when a gunman opened fire. “As the bullets flew, and Blair was shot,” the
senator said, “he pulled a friend onto a seat and saved her life. And as he was
driven to the hospital, where he would pass away a short time later, he asked
the paramedics to tell his parents that he loved them.”

Over the past school year, Mr. Obama said, the number of public school
students killed in Chicago was higher than the number of soldiers from the
entire state of Illinois who were killed in Iraq during that period.

As I mentioned in a previous column on this issue, Chicago is hardly alone
when it comes to the slaughter of youngsters who are living in conditions that
can fairly be compared to combat.

“From South-Central L.A. to Newark, New Jersey,” said Senator Obama, “there’s
an epidemic of violence that’s sickening the soul of this nation. For the third
year in a row, violent crime and murder are on the rise nationwide. As we’ve all
borne witness to here in Chicago, this is partly due to the rise of gang
violence. The F.B.I. says there are now more gang members on our nation’s
streets than police officers.”

The senator talked about the need for more stringent gun control laws, and he
criticized the Bush administration for “decimating” a Clinton administration
initiative that had added more than 100,000 police officers to local
departments.

He said governments need to do more to combat gangs and gang violence and
invest more in after-school programs that provide an alternative to the streets
for vulnerable youngsters.

But he added, “There is only so much government can do.” There is also a
need, he said, “for a change in attitude.”

The senator talked about the young men and boys who have gone down “the wrong
path.” And he said one of the main reasons they are wreaking havoc and shooting
one another is that they had not received enough attention while growing up from
responsible adults.

“We’re not reading to them,” he said. “We’re not sitting down with them and
talking to them. We’re not guiding them. We’re not disciplining them.”

In a conversation yesterday, he stressed that the plight of young people
struggling in tough environments demands both governmental attention and a
heightened sense of individual responsibility. Both are essential.

He said in his speech that he will keep fighting in Washington for more money
and more programs. “But that money and those programs,” he said, “will not make
any difference unless we have a change of heart.”

He also noted that there was tremendous grief across the country when the
massacre at Virginia Tech happened last April, “and rightfully so.” But with 34
schoolkids dead in Chicago since the beginning of the last school year, he said,
“for the most part, there has been silence.”

It’s important, he said, that Americans reach a mind-set in which “we care
just as much” about the children slain in Chicago as those killed at Virginia
Tech.

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