Hadiya Pendleton was shot four blocks away from my house on a secluded block that I once dreamed of living on as a child. Architecturally-unique row and townhomes line the street on both sides. It is the last avenue before reaching the oasis of beautiful Lake Michigan. The small street spans a distance of less than seven blocks before it concludes, never to be seen again in the city. Most people who live in the surrounding neighborhood do not know that Oakenwald Street even exists. Understanding the seclusion of the street where Hadiya was shot is vital in understanding the unnerving nature of the circumstances that led to her death.
No place is exempt from the looming presence of gun violence that is engulfing Chicago.
Newton, Connecticut revealed that no one is exempt from the growing presence of gun violence that is engulfing our nation.
To be clear: Hadiya was not killed by poverty. She was killed by a gun.
The 26 people who died in Newtown, Connecticut did not die because of mental illness. They died because someone with mental illness had a gun.
For that reason, there is nothing on this Earth that pisses me off more than people who dare to present the non-argument that “guns don’t kill people.” This is simply a lazy, ill-conceived response from people who have the luxury of thinking theoretically about a problem that has not personally affected them.
In other words, it’s bullshit.
We know this because since Newton, 1,471 people have died in gun violence, 40+ of them in the Chicago area alone.
To be fair, I recognize that many of those who pivot to the need for mental health resources, better education, jobs, and resources to assist those in poverty are well intentioned. However, many of these people don’t have children who they honestly fear could one day become a victim of such violence. Many of them don’t live steps away from where two children have been shot in less than four months. Many of them don’t feel the palpable fear that fills a parent when a shooting happens at a place where you have visited, where you have walked, or where you have played with your child. Though many would argue that this doesn’t make a difference, I would argue that it makes a world of difference.
As a parent, asking me to bet on the world becoming a kinder, gentler place is the equivalent of telling me to wait on world peace.
Poverty has been here since the beginning of time and it will be here long after most of us are gone. The same could be said about mental illness. However, the worse that could come from these circumstances have become exacerbated in our lifetimes because of the lack of accountability by our country to control gun trafficking, gun sales, or enforce gun registration in the same fashion that we are willing to regulate the level of trans fat that is put in our Twinkies and Ho Ho’s. We dare to do this in the name of defending the absoluteness of an immaculately conceived yet deeply flawed Constitution. We do this as children and innocent people die rather than rise to the occasion to evolve our laws to coincide with the time in which we live.
I live on Oakenwald. There is a park that lies midway between my home and the park where Hadiya was killed – approximately 2 blocks away. I have taken my child there during the summer to run through the sprinklers and to slide on the sliding boards. Though it’s a beautiful park, I can guarantee that I won’t take him there this summer.
I consider those who defend gun rights on behalf of self-protection or the illusion that more guns will make children and families safer. I can only empathize with their intentions. However, as a child of a Southern man who had one rifle and two handguns in the home, I can tell you that I knew exactly where each was located. I was a climber so I knew how to get to them. I remember playing with the handgun which was well hidden and there for the sole purpose of protecting my family. I shudder to think of what could have happened. The truth is that children listen when you do not think they are listening and observe when you are not aware that they are looking. This is the sole reason why I will never have a gun in my household.
Let’s pray. Let’s treat each with love and kindness. Let’s mentor. Let’s be the change that we hope to see.
Well, I’ve done all of that. Yet children continue to die around me.