February 13, 2013
Baron Banks wasn't in Washington to witness President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
"No," he told me. "Nobody gave me a call."
So he wasn't in the first lady's box as the president somberly acknowledged the families that lost children through street violence in Chicago, like the family of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl who has become the new symbol of innocents killed by barbarians.
Instead, Banks was in his South Side bungalow in the South Chicago neighborhood. We talked through the open door. I was there to ask about his 12-year-old son, Nazia.
"He died right there, right on these front steps," Banks told me. "They caught him right here. They shot him. And all I had to do is say, 'Don't go out tonight. Wait for tomorrow.' But I didn't."
Nazia Banks was shot in the head on May 19 of last year. His father said he made him some tacos — Nazia's favorite meal — for dinner.
"He put his plate away, and he asked if he could go outside, and I said yes," said Banks.
There were no urgent politics attached to the boy's death, no White House or City Hall pressure to arrest the shooter, no political advantage, no TV trucks camped outside his family's old bungalow.
There wasn't any national attention paid to his death because media attention — national and local — was focused elsewhere.
Nazia died on the weekend that the NATO summit opened downtown. So journalists were intent on the gathering of diplomats, and the protesters and all that delicious, easy drama. I didn't write a single word about him. And except for a thin police story or two, there was nothing.
"I put up posters in the neighborhood for information," said his father, blinking into the light, "and I don't know if it's the wind or the dudes who killed him tearing them down."
I asked him about Obama and his State of the Union speech, and what he should say when he comes to Chicago on Friday.
"I hope he can do something, but politicians all talk garbage anyway. It's always been like this, since I was a shorty."
By mentioning Nazia, I'm not trying to criticize Obama's handling of Hadiya's death, nor am I trying to minimize the Pendleton family's loss or the pain felt by other families invited to Washington. The president can't invite the families of all 506 Chicago homicide victims last year.
And a city awash with corruption and violence becomes numb, until only special cases, and special circumstances, seem to pierce the civic skin.
The other day I told you about an ex-con homicide victim forgotten by everyone but his loving family. But today I wanted to bear witness to the loss of Nazia, and some of those other forgotten innocents, the legion of children who've been killed in recent years without the national media spotlight.
Like 7-year-old Heaven Sutton, who was sitting with her mother selling snacks and snow cones in the North Austin neighborhood on June 27 when a gangbanger opened fire and killed her.
Or Aliyah Shell, 6, sitting in the afternoon on her front porch with her mother, younger sister and a man on March 17. Police said a pickup truck pulled up in front of the home. A man inside the truck started shooting. Aliyah was killed.
Or Darius Brown, 13, shot to death while playing basketball in a Bronzeville park Aug. 3, 2011. Police said Darius was an innocent victim about to enter eighth grade at Holy Angels School.
Derrion Albert was celebrated in death after being stomped and bludgeoned by other teens near Fenger High School in 2009.
The Obama White House got involved then too. Attorney General Eric Holder came to Chicago and made a speech, as did Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said, "This is a line in the sand, and we have to get dramatically better."
It's always a line in the sand for politicians, until the sand moves.
And who can forget Ben Wilson, the top high school basketball player in the country, shot to death in November 1984? Then, as now, the politicians made vows and talked of gun control but avoided the pathology of barbarism.
The other day, a few feet from where Wilson was shot, near the new Simeon Career Academy, I met two 14-year-old freshmen. They knew of Ben Wilson. Both boys said that gun control wasn't the only answer and that gangbangers wouldn't listen to Obama.
"If it were up to me," said one, "he can keep the guns. He needs to get more police on the street."
On the block of the park where Hadiya Pendleton was killed, a street of expensive and well-kept Kenwood homes, I ran into neighbor Geri Redd, a mom and kindergarten teacher. You could see from her face that she felt for Hadiya, but also for the other children who've fallen beneath our notice.
"There are what, 500 killed?" she said. "And not to say that Hadiya was just another one, but people relate more to her, I think. I think in a lot of ways because how she was and how she was raised is sort of how we envision our children, so you immediately connect to her. But there's all these other children."
Like Nazia Banks, forgotten by most, except his father.
"Right there I lost my son," said his father, eyes rolling, pointing at those concrete steps. "Right there."
Nazia was just another murdered child in Chicago.
And nobody said he was everyone's son.
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