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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz Commentary

Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in a Chicago park.

First Lady to attend slain girl's funeral


In a more perfect world, there would be no need for anyone to attend the funeral of a 15-year-old girl killed by senseless gun violence.

But First Lady Michelle Obama's scheduled appearance Saturday at the funeral of a Chicago girl gunned down just miles away from where the President and first lady have a home in their adopted city is an appropriate gesture.

Her appearance may not halt the bloodshed caused by guns in the mean streets of the Windy City, but at least it's a sign some voices have been heard in the Obama household.

Michelle Obama will attend services for Hadiya Pendleton, who performed with the King College Prep High School marching band in Washington last month at Obama's inaugural in Washington, D.C.

Just days after the group returned to Chicago, Hadiya was shot after she and a group of schoolmates were taking shelter from the rain in a small park in their neighborhood.

According to police, two boys were also wounded in the shooting, which police suspect was the work of a gang member who mistakenly believed the group included rival gang members.

In the killing ground that some Chicago neighborhoods have become, that's all it takes.

When Hadiya's death became known, media reports about her trip to DC struck a nerve with a nation already struggling with senseless gun violence that takes children much too early. When Hadiya's angelic face became part of her story, a face so innocent it coaxed a river of tears whether you knew the girl or not, she became a national symbol of grieving over the plague of violence in the nation's inner cities where a majority of the victims have been black youth slain by other black youth.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre touched people in another way with unspeakable horror at the slaying of children as young as six years old. For inner city parents in a place like Chicago, with a record 500 homicides in 2012 mostly due to ridiculous turf wars between young black men with handguns, Hadiya Pendleton'a plight became a rallying cry that screamed: "No more!"

Michelle Obama will appear as the first African-American first lady and a Chicago native who can put a spotlight on the issue in a way that eschews the normal political grandstanding. One would hope her appearance is received as a low-key show of support for a greater cause but an underlying cynicism can already by detected from some.

According to the Christian Post, the First Lady decided to attend the funeral after an online petition was created that requested her husband to make the trip. In the middle of his own gun control campaign to convince members of Congress for the need for stricter requirements and standards, Obama's lack of focus on inner city guns that shatter families with grief has been noted by some of his detractors and even his supporters.

Time after time, I've heard Obama fans in Milwaukee complain about his failure to address what's happening in Chicago, the place where he received his political start and still maintains a residence. The president did mention the carnage in Chicago during some recent addresses about gun control, but for mothers and fathers who buried their children over the past 12 months or so, it didn't seem like enough.

By showing up at the funeral, Michelle Obama won't solve the gang violence in Chicago or prevent the easy access to illegal guns most gang-bangers use to arm themselves or educate young black people bout the dangers of using a deadly weapon to settle a gripe or dispute over territory.

Michelle Obama can't visit every home in the inner city to find out why parents can't be the first line of defense against gun violence by simply imposing discipline on their children that prevents them from obtaining or using guns illegally.

In a single trip, Michelle Obama can't get to the bottom of why some African-American youth value life so little they will fire a bullet with indiscriminate concern about where it finds its target, whether it's a bitter foe on the streets or a true innocent like Hadiya.

If the First Lady is serving as a stand-in for her husband, that still suggests the issue is of importance in their household with two daughters who could easily have been in Hadiya's situation if they still attended a good school in Chicago.

Just a few days after performing in an event that surely would have been remembered for the rest of her life, Hadiya was taken from the world. Her name now stands for something greater than just her own story, and it's good the First Family will acknowledge that.

There will no doubt be more funerals for dead young people killed by guns in Chicago and elsewhere that won't be attended by important national figures. But that doesn't mean it's an empty gesture when attention is paid to a particularly shocking tragedy.

Let's keep the issue in the headlines with the hope some people will reconsider what it means to fire a deadly weapon in anger.

If we keep trying to spread the message in every way possible, we might just find the right target this time.

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