For the past three years, Peter Nickeas has covered the explosion of gun violence in Chicago for the Chicago Tribune. Nickeas has earned national renown for his reporting thanks in part to his work ethic (he's been to more than 500 crime scenes, and writes most of his stories in the dead of night) and his presence on Twitter, where he posts real-time reactions from victims' families and bystanders, and highlights the gallows talk of police scanners.
But on Sunday, Nickeas's Twitter feed gained attention for something else: the reporter criticized a letter sent by President Obama to a Chicago teen, Malik Bryant, who according to the Chicago Sun Times wished for "safety" as part of a Letters to Santa event run by his school.
The president caught wind of the letter and responded to Bryant with one of his own in which he offered "a few words of encouragement.”
“Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow," Obama wrote. "Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I’m confident you can achieve anything you imagine . . . and I will be rooting for you.”
Here's how Nickeas responded on Twitter to this, and to the larger question of what can and should be done about an issue he arguably knows better than anyone (transcribed version follows tweets):
"The embodiment of childhood innocence is believing in Santa &/or goodness of Christmas. This kid spent his wish on not living w/ violence. It took a bunch of connected motherfuckers to make this shit matter. The wish for safety wasn't enough. The story name-drops a lot. The boy's mom doesn't let him outside really. This is a super, super common parenting tactic. Kid isn't likely to get hurt inside. How fucked up is it that the solution to neighborhood violence is that your kid doesn't get to be outside? Yet as a city we accept this - of course the kids shouldn't be outside, that's where the shithead gangbangers are. And so generations of kids grow up on video games and other indoor activities because risk of what's outside does not outweigh reward. The leader of the free world felt compelled to respond and could only offer "words of encouragement." Speaks to level of the problem. The president. Chicago guy. Kid from a couple miles away says "I can't live here safely" & most powerful individual in the world says, in effect, "good luck." The fucking president. "Words of encouragement." I don't see why he couldn't direct a policy response. Him being the president and all. I mean think of what the fuck you were asking for at 13 years old and this kid just wants to live his fucking life without gunfire. And the most powerful guy in the world is like "yeah, I agree, but I offer nothing concrete in the way of helping you with that." I get that this story is supposed to be like, aww, POTUS responds to a local kid. But every single premise of why this is a story is fucked. This kid doesn't get to be a kid. Kids in vast swaths of Chicago don't get to be kids. And nobody has shit to say about it. The parts of your youth that you wish you had back, to know innocence again, to be able to say that youth is wasted on youth - Kids are born and die never knowing that innocence that you yearn for. It's fucking heartbreaking. I agree with basically everything @mmilam55 has had to say - it's bigger than Obama, the problem predates him, Chicago needs to care too. If there's someone w/ political authority to speak on Chicago shit right now, it's the Chicago guy w/ the highest office in the land. I don't know what the answer is to Chicago violence. The longer I spend covering it, the less I feel I know. I do feel like, if I had the entire federal gov't at my command, I might direct some of it toward Chicago's problems… Nat guard was used in Ferguson when unrest was directed at state. Unrest among residents is accepted."
Although murders in Chicago hit a five-decade low in 2014, shootings were up year-on-year, and some specific communities saw their homicide numbers climb.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.