CHICAGO – The Rev. Jesse Jackson called on President Barack Obama on Saturday to return to Chicago and approve federal intervention to help stem the number of deadly shootings in the nation's third-largest city, saying "we can't handle it alone."
"No city in America right now faces Chicago's crisis," Jackson said. "We need help."
The civil rights leader spoke just before leading a march to the park where a 15-year-old honor student was shot and killed Tuesday in a wealthy neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. Police say Hadiya Pendleton was talking with friends after school when she was caught up in a gang shooting.
Her death came about week after the majorette who once recorded an anti-gang video performed for Obama's inauguration, and it has turned a national spotlight on gun violence in the president's hometown.
Pendleton was among the more than 40 people killed in what was the city's deadliest January in more than a decade. Last year, the city saw 506 homicides.
"Chicago is becoming a place where we're just becoming comfortable with death," said Shatira Wilks, a cousin of Pendleton who joined Jackson for a news conference. "I don't want to become comfortable with death. I don't like the idea of that."
Jackson renewed a call for a ban on assault weapons and said federal authorities are needed to stop the guns and drugs that are "pouring in" from outside the city and state.
Chicago has one of the strictest gun-control ordinances in the nation. But a University of Chicago study found that more than 1,300 guns confiscated by police since 2008 were bought at the same store just outside city limits. More than 270 were used in crimes.
"We look at death coming down the street and we can't stop it," Jackson said.
He also said the area needs an urban reconstruction program that addresses poverty, education and unemployment.
Jackson believes a visit by Obama to the area where he once worked as a community organizer would show "ultimate national seriousness" about the problems the city is facing.
At the small park where Pendleton was killed, Jackson and other ministers from neighborhoods hardest hit by violence prayed for victims and their families. They also asked people who witness shootings to "be courageous" and speak to police.
They said there needs to be better local and federal protection for witnesses.
Dee Cuzan lives in the neighborhood, not far from Obama's Chicago home, and volunteers at a community center.
"The proliferation of guns in our neighborhood has been out of control for a very long time," she said. "All we can do is stay prayerful."