Her name was Hadiya Pendleton, and she was only 15 years old. The dimples in her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes—each of these tell the story. She was an honor student, a volley ball player and a majorette, nice enough with her studies and her drill team routines that she got the chance to perform with her school’s marching band during President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade in Washington, just days ago. Her pictures illustrate all that her friends remember of her: Hadiya was smart. Kind. Sweet. Full of light. With a potential that was limitless.
But now, Hadiya is gone from here. On Tuesday afternoon, she became the 42nd person to be killed in Chicago this month, the deadliest January in that city in more than a decade. This was not a case of Hadiya being in the wrong place at the wrong time; this child, having been released early from King College Prep High School after taking final exams, was with her friends in a park near her school, taking shelter from the rain under a canopy of trees when some coward with a gun hopped a fence and shot into the crowd of teens. Hadiya was shot in the back; she collapsed a few blocks away in front of a row of upscale condos, not too far from President Obama’s family home, and died an hour later. Another boy, too, was shot and is in serious condition at an area hospital.
And though the park was full of people who presumably had their eyes wide open when the bullets started popping, no one—not one, single, solitary person—will tell police who the shooter is.
This. Is. Madness. All of it. Hadiya’s shooting death. Chicago’s 2013 death toll. The silence of those who know who took her life, but won’t tell. The proliferation of gun violence in that mid-West city, which continues to claim the lives of young black children and teens at an alarming clip. The dismissal of their deaths as “gang-related” activity—an all-too-comfortable pronouncement that renders our babies lives irrelevant. As if kids like Hadiya and Aliyah Shell and Heaven Sutton and Ronnie Chambers had those bullets coming to them.
The victims of these shootings are not the sole victims. They have mothers and fathers and little sisters and brothers and aunties and uncles and gran-grans and friends and neighbors who loved them. Who miss them. Who saw bigger for them. Better. Dreamed some of the same dreams for their children as those of the parents of those sweet babies gunned down in Newton, Connecticut.
Where are the tears for Hadiya and all the brown babies like her? Where are the hastily-called speeches and the national groundswell of condolences and hand-drawn cards and warehouses full of teddy bears and school supplies for our children? And as the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School cry and yell out and stand on a national stage to proclaim that their children’s right to life supercedes the Second Amendment (Amen! It does! And they have the right to say it!), why aren’t gun control advocates, Congress and CNN, the Today show, the New York Times and our most treasured, respected media organizations making the connection between the deaths of our children and the severe lack of uniformed gun control legislation and support to stop the flow of illegal guns in our communities? Why did White House spokesman Jay Carney’s shoutout of Hadiya at a press conference yesterday—”It’s a terrible tragedy any time a young person is struck down with so much of their life ahead of them, and we see it far too often. The president and first lady’s thoughts and prayers are with the family of Hadiya Pendleton,” he said—ring terribly hollow when juxtaposed with images of President Obama’s passionate tears as he called the children of Newtown “America’s children”?
Finally, and perhaps most important, why do we, the mothers and the fathers and the sisters and the brothers and the friends and the neighbors of brown babies, continue to collectively cloak these fools, these cowards, these animals who use their guns to flood Chicago’s streets with the blood of our children? Where is the good/God in a “no snitching” policy? Where is the police and judicial protection for those who would come forward and tell what they know? Why do these bastards get to shoot and run and hide, leaving a trail of our tears in their wake? Like this ish is normal?
I got questions. Each one of them needs to be answered. For Hadiya’s sake. For the sake of all of our babies. I’m all for the Black Youth Project’s petition calling for President Obama to address rampant gun violence in Chicago and other African American communities, and another asking that he eulogize the little sister who went from his inauguration to the mortuary in eight days. But frankly, I would rather hear that the president, who is sparing no resource or expense to stop another massacre like those that took place in Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and Aurora and the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, add the children of Chicago to the list of Americans who deserve real, thoughtful action to stop this madness. The circumstances behind the deaths of the children of Chicago are different from those of Sandy Hook, sure. And curbing gun violence in the two vastly different communities may require different approaches. But the grief—the mothers’ tears—are all the same. It’s time we as a nation treated them as such.
Fly with the angels, Hadiya Pendleton.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.