CHICAGO – Following months of a re-ignited gun reform debate, the fatal shooting of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton at a Chicago park added more fuel to the fire, causing residents and officials to put out major calls of action countrywide.
The sophomore majorette had recently experienced a trip of a lifetime. She returned from Washington, D.C. with her school band and performed in events at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
“She was ecstatic about going to Washington, and the experience there was so amazing for her,” Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley, told MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton Thursday in an appearance on Politics Nation.
Just eight days later, police said on Jan. 29, she was shot in the back while she was seeking shelter from the rain with friends in a park. According to Chicago police, the afternoon shooting was most likely over gang turf and Pendleton was not the intended target.
The young student was an advocate for ending gang violence. She appeared in a 2008 public service announcement with another student saying, “There are so many children out there are in gangs and it’s your job as students to say no to gangs and yes to a great future.”
Days later, the community is still outraged of the incident that happens much too often in Chicago.
“You’re shocked by how horrible it is. You’re not numb, but it makes you feel, for lack of a better way to say it, we’re really in a bad place in our society and our community,” said Jitu Brown, 46, an education coordinator with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, located in the neighborhood where Pendleton was shot.
Local residents and city, state and U.S. officials have galvanized in an attempt to bring awareness to Chicago’s violence epidemic. In the Kenwood area where Pendleton was shot, the homicide rate has gone up 300 percent between 2010 and 2012, according to Chicago police.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday made plans public to take 200 police officers in administrative positions off the desk and place them on the streets. Although the suggestion was recommended by city officials last week, according to NBC Chicago, it took on a new significance when Pendleton became the poster child for Chicago’s high murder rate.
“When any young person in our city is gunned down without reason, it demands action from all of us,” Emanuel said at a press conference. “As we grieve for Hadiya, we need to work together to protect our greatest resource, the children of the city of Chicago.”
According to Emanuel, the police had received tips about who might have killed Pendleton and wounded a 16-year-old friend. “Please step forward. That is what a good neighbor does,” Emanuel said of anyone with information.
Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin noted Pendleton’s murder at a gun hearing on Capitol Hill this week. “Our biggest problem in Chicago, according to [police] superintendent [Garry] McCarthy, who came to Chicago from New York, we are awash in guns. The confiscation of guns, per capita in Chicago is six times the number of New York City. We have guns everywhere,“ he said.