Pam Bosley recounted how she once explained the details of the 2006 murder of her son to Hillary Clinton, who was a presidential candidate at the time, only to never hear from her again.
So Bosley said she was circumspect when Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke promised Monday that he was “all in” on efforts to curb gun violence in Chicago, even if he doesn’t win his party’s nomination.
“I’ve been going through this since 2007, talked to different candidates. I don’t. I don’t believe it. I want to see action. Because everyone always listens to our stories, and they go, ‘Ahhh.’ But I don’t want the sympathy. I want action,” Bosley said after a meeting with O’Rourke in the Southwest Side’s Chicago Lawn neighborhood.
“So right now, I don’t believe it,” she said. “But if he comes back, I’ll be surprised. But I hope he does. I hope he keeps his word.”
Bosley, whose 18-year-old son was killed in a South Side church yard shortly before a choir practice, was one of three African American mothers who took part in a nearly hourlong discussion with O’Rourke at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. All three had sons who were were victims of gun violence.
Spread out on a conference table were photos of the women’s children as O’Rourke, accompanied by former U.S. Education Secretary and Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan, listened and took notes.
Gun violence has emerged as the major theme for O’Rourke. The former Texas congressman lives in El Paso, where 22 people were killed and 24 more injured in a mass shooting at a Walmart store in August. The shooting, O’Rourke said, has made gun violence “personal” to him.
“Whatever political capital I have as president, I want to make sure that we spend it in addressing this issue,” O’Rourke told the women.
“I really do believe this, any other thing that we would want to do — confront climate change, address economic inequality, make sure that we have world class public schools throughout the country — only becomes possible when people don’t live in fear for their lives, when people know that they’re safe to walk the streets, go to schools, show up at work. And right now we don’t have that in this country,” he said.
The women were representing the support group Purpose Over Pain, which advocates what it calls “common-sense” gun laws and offers programming for at-risk youths.
“When you talk about democracy and you talk about this country … it’s kind of lost its glimmer. You still believe in the American Dream, but it’s lost its glitter,” said Brenda Mitchell, who said her son Kenneth was killed in February 2005 in the south suburbs.
“We often think of ourselves as the walking wounded because we have a wound that will never be repaired,” Mitchell said. “But what we do have is each other and an understanding of where we are in terms of our pain and what things we want to change for humanity.”
O’Rourke said that despite proposals such as expanded background checks for gun purchases, bans on military-style firearms and “red flag” laws to remove guns from those who pose a danger, “nothing’s changed” and “in fact, things have gotten worse by any way we can measure it.”
“What we don’t know, to be very honest with you, is how to reflect the public will and the support and the interest in these proposals and turn it into legislation,” he said.
“What we have seen is whether it’s the gun lobby or the NRA or just people once their in office having a fear that they won’t be able to return to office if they do the right thing is a complicity, maybe even a cowardice, in the face of this challenge or this threat,” he said, referencing the National Rifle Association.
O’Rourke said the need to provide more economic and educational opportunities, addressing “foundational, endemic racism that we see in every part of American life” and increasing the accountability of law enforcement were also important components in curbing gun crimes.
While O’Rourke’s outspokenness on gun violence was spurred by a mass shooting in his hometown, the three mothers noted that multiple people are routinely killed in Chicago in shootings that don’t get as much attention.
“When there’s a mass shooting, it’s an outrage and everybody’s upset. Here in Chicago we have mass shootings all the time,” Bosley said.
O’Rourke said after the meeting that he could understand the women’s frustration.
“If this is happening every single day in your community, in over the course of one weekend dozens are shot in Chicago, half a dozen are killed, and it is so routine it doesn’t make the headlines in El Paso or New York City or any other part of the country … then I begin to understand the scope and the depth of the problem right here,” O’Rourke said.
“There’s no other way to address that than by showing up here and listening and making sure these (women’s) stories become part of the story of this campaign and what we want to do for this country,” he said.
O’Rourke, who has called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, said he can understand why people who face life-threatening violence every day in their neighborhood are not following the latest White House controversy over whether Trump asked Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I think it’s really hard for people to focus on Ukraine or foreign policy or the president’s lawbreaking when they don’t feel safe in their own communities or they’re grieving the loss of a son who’s killed by a police officer who was never brought to justice,” O’Rourke said.
But, he said, “It just can’t be an open question anymore that this president has broken the law, that Donald Trump is using his position of power and public trust to compel foreign governments to involve themselves in our elections in the case of Ukraine, against one of his prospective opponents.”
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