President Obama: Hadiya and other victims ‘deserve a vote’ in Congress on gun reforms
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night reached a dramatic climax as he pushed members to vote on gun reforms, singling out our nation’s recent tragedies of violence — including the slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton “just a mile away from my house.”
“They deserve a vote,” he repeated, raising his voice as the packed chamber rose to its feet as he evoked memories of Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo., and other communities hit by violence.
“They deserve a simple vote.”
Obama’s anticipated remarks on gun violence, including its impact on his hometown, came toward the end of his nearly 65-minute speech.
At least two dozen Americans whose lives were upended by gun violence were in the chamber Tuesday night.
That included the girl who has grown into a symbol of Chicago’s raging street violence.
“One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend,” Obama said. “Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”
As Obama singled out victims and survivors, the crowd grew louder
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote,” he said, raising his voice to compete with the din in the room. As he grew louder, the crowd applauded louder. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”
Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt but is still recovering, was in the room, holding one hand over another and shaking them together, trying her best to share in the applause.
The family of Hadiya Pendleton was sitting in the same box as first lady Michelle Obama.
But there was another representative of another Chicago tragedy.
Next to U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) was Denise Reed, who knows of the violence ravaging Chicago all too well. On March 3, it will be seven years since her daughter, Starkesia Reed, was killed.
The 14-year-old Englewood student was getting ready for school at 8 a.m. one morning when she was shot dead by a random bullet that went through a wall in her home. It was fired by a young man who was upset over a girlfriend issue and he came to Starkesia’s block and, using an AK-47, began spraying it with bullets.
“For my family and myself, she is very much alive in our hearts and in our activities. We don’t want her passing to just go away. This was a child who lost her life to senseless violence,” Denise Reed said.
Reed was Duckworth’s guest.
She said she’s hoping Obama will succeed to control the flow of illegal guns on the streets, saying it would work to curb inner-city violence, adding that the weapon used to kill her daughter was a so-called “assault” military-style weapon. “It wasn’t due to gangs,” she said of the shooting. “It was due to an altercation over a girl.”
“There are so many of these young people whose futures are so bright,” Duckworth said of Starkesia, who wanted to be a doctor. “This is the cream of the crop. These were going to be the kids who were the leaders.”
Obama also called for comprehensive immigration reform, promised to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of next year and pledged to keep the Armed Forces strong.
But he focused much of his speech trying to reach out to the middle class, pushing for a higher minimum wage, affordable early childhood education and scorecards for colleges.
“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” Obama said to a standing ovation.
Obama proposed a “Fix-It-First” program that he said aimed “to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.”
“Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America,” the president said.
Obama proposed broadening early childhood education, promising to make it more accessible to the average person.
“I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” he said. “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on — by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.”
He also proposed a college scorecard, where families could gauge which universities were worth attending. Colleges would also not qualify for federal grants if they weren’t performing up to standards.