Hadiya Pendleton was a 15-year-old honor student who attended Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. College Prep High School, one of eight selective-enrollment public high schools in Chicago. She was gunned down Tuesday as she and friends sought shelter from the rain under a canopy at Harsh Park. At the time of the shooting there had been 41 murders in Chicago in 2013. Pendleton's was the 42nd. The aftershock of her death now ebbs and flows over the city.
She is not the first young person senselessly slaughtered in the city, and unfortunately she won't be the last; nor is she the first female, the first honor student, or the first murdered in a non-gang-related shooting. Police report that neither Pendleton nor her friends were gang members, although it would be easier for some to believe they were. Officials surmise the gunman mistakenly believed the teens were members of a rival gang and opened fire on them.
There must be more to this story. The "more" is how a story is perceived and the value mainstream American society and the media place on some lives while not placing much value on others, which is reflected in the stories the mainstream media promotes. It's the high expectations for children born into two-parent families and the low expectations for those born into single-parent ones. The outcry over Pendleton's death would be deafening if she had been white. This is not an outrageous statement—it's a true one.
If an honor student is gunned down in Englewood, one of the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago, many will say it's indeed a shame that child wasn't able to make it out of the war zone. There will be flowers, tears will flow and makeshift memorials will rise, but unspoken words will also infiltrate the minds of the majority ethnic group—why did the family live in such a horrible neighborhood, why was there no father in the home, why do people have children when they can't afford to live in suburbia with a white picket fence surrounding their home, 2.5 children and two cars in the garage? There are no canned answers, because each situation is different. However, respect for life—all life—should manifest itself in a humane society.
Pendleton was a "city kid," but her parents were married. She had a younger brother and extended family who loved her. She was an intelligent, lively young lady. According to reports from family and friends, boundless opportunities awaited her. She had accomplished much in her short life, including performing at President Barack Obama's recent inauguration with her school band and gaining admission to an excellent high school. Her life personified the potential and promise of the American Dream. Perhaps mainstream America can understand, and hopefully relate, to this tragedy, because Pendleton's family may mirror their own—with the exception of darker skin tones.
Horrifically, Pendleton's life ended less than one mile from Obama's Chicago home, in the neighborhood of Kenwood. Her life had limitless value, as every child and youth's does—even those born in Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, Washington Park, Garfield Park and countless other violent Chicago neighborhoods.
Pendleton's future was hopeful and seemingly secure because of family unity and strength. I applaud her mother and father for the diligence and care they took with the life that was entrusted to them, and I mourn for Pendleton, but I mourn no less for the slain children in other areas of the city whose futures are also potentially bright. Their start may not have been as positive as Pendleton's, but they, just as she, deserved the chance to dream, live, and become productive members of society.
There are many who may not achieve the fame of a Jennifer Hudson or a Derrick Rose but who would have made it out of the killing fields if they hadn't died prematurely from a stray bullet.
So far, the city has offered an $11,000 reward for leads on Pendleton's shooter. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked about her death, and so has Obama. Words only—no actions. When the federal marshals are called in, Chicagoans will know "change has come America," to quote the words of the president.