Obama told churchgoers at the Vernon Park Church of God on the city's South Side that too many young lives are being claimed by violence and more must be done by public officials and members of the community to combat the problem.
"From South Central, L.A., to Newark, New Jersey, there's an epidemic of violence that's sickening the soul of this nation," the Illinois senator told the crowd. "The violence is unacceptable and it's got to stop." Nearly three dozen students have been killed by violence this year, according to Chicago Public Schools. Obama said that figure is higher than the number of Illinois serviceman who've died in Iraq in 2007.
"We need to express our collective anger through collective action," Obama said. Darrell Simms, 54, a lifelong Chicago resident who runs an area construction company and said the speech "hit home." "He truly displayed a keen insight into what kind of collaboration needs to take place in order to prevent the violence that is going on not only in Chicago but in our nation," Simms said. "If the inner cities aren't saved, then the nation won't thrive.
Before he introduced Obama to the podium, the church's pastor spoke briefly about how violence has touched many lives in the congregation, including his own. The Rev. Jerald January said two of his relatives have been murdered.
Also in the standing room-only crowd was the grandmother of 13-year-old Schanna Gayden, who was killed June 25 after she became caught in gang cross fire. Gayden was the 34th public school student killed since the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year. "I'm tired of marching and lighting candles. I'm tired of giving speeches like this year after year after year," Obama said.
The spate of deaths have prompted the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a local priest to hold regular protests outside a suburban gun shop they claim sells weapons that are brought back to the city and used to commit crimes.
Jackson and the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who were recently arrested at one of the demonstrations and charged with disorderly conduct, say they are organizing the protests to call attention to the need for stricter gun legislation.
Obama seemed to agree.
In his speech Sunday, Obama said the government needs to permanently reinstate an assault weapons ban and close regulatory loopholes that protect unscrupulous gun dealers. He also said government should support and fund more after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. But some of the burden must also be shouldered by residents who need to do more to raise and protect at-risk children, he added.
"We have an entire generation of young men in our society who have become products of violence, and we are going to have to break the cycle," Obama said. "There are too many young men out there who have gone down the wrong path."
He later added, "There's a reason they go out and shoot each other, because they don't love themselves. And the reason they don't love themselves is because we are not loving them enough."