On the sidewalk outside St. Columbanus this week, not 10 minutes from where Obama gave his 2007 gun violence speech, Larry Steele talked about three splintered gangs fighting to control neighborhood street corners. These are the Chicago street corners Obama mentioned at his election victory rally on Nov. 6 and again in his post-Newtown remarks from the White House.
Steele, a contractor, has seen violence aplenty during his 54 years on the South Side, but "there was never anything like this. It's just a sad thing to see. The people don't come together, and everyone's fighting for something they can't have. The street corners. The corners don't belong to them."
In the Park Manor neighborhood that should be safe, Steele said, residents are sometimes afraid to walk through a group of loitering young men, because they fear getting caught in a drive-by shooting.
"The guns are used to mark their territory. I guess it's block by block," said Steele, who has watched Chicago police staking out gang funerals and believes tougher gun penalties would help. "A lot of guys do time like a piece of cake, a catwalk. They go into the system and come right out."
A few blocks away, near the corner of East 75th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Ron Smith sees the young men and their guns as they pass in front of his window at League Styles Barber Shop. "They all have 'em," he said.
Smith says arming even more people to stop the young gunmen sounds promising but would probably be pointless: "It would turn into the wild, wild West. Wyatt Earp."
"At this point, it's about reaching the kids that can be reached. Trying to help them achieve something," Smith said, adding that Obama and the federal government could help in a time of debilitating city and state budget deficits. "If they had more programs for the youth, more things for them to get involved in, they wouldn't be out here on the streets doing what they're doing."