The real roots of violence & Hadiya Pendleton: The not-so-random violence in US cities
February 11, 2013
"It’s very painful to see your big sister get slaughtered," said the 10-year-old brother of Hadiya Pendleton, relaying his devastation at the murder last month of the 15-year-old African American high school student in Chicago.
Pendleton was shot while hanging out with her friends in a park on the South Side of Chicago, after completing her exams in school. She died shortly after. This past weekend, hundreds of Black Chicagoans lined up in below-freezing weather to attend the funeral of the slain teen.
Pendleton’s death received national attention for two reasons. One, she had attended and performed for President Obama’s inauguration just days before she was killed. Second, her death underlined the random and senseless violence plaguing cities like Chicago, in the midst of a national debate about gun control.
Local activists and political leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, called on Obama to return to Chicago to attend Hadiya’s funeral and draw national attention to the escalating gun violence in Chicago. A nationally circulated petition read in part, “As Newtown swirls down the memory hole and passion to implement sane gun control gets sidetracked by whatever the latest Congressional bullshit circus will be, President Obama should stand up and take advantage of a tragic opportunity to keep the anti-gun violence movement engaged.”
Since 2008, more than 530 young people have been killed in Chicago, making it the youth murder capital of the country. The vast majority of these deaths—almost 80 percent—have happened in 22 Black and Brown majority neighborhoods. In 2010, nearly 700 Chicago school children were shot, and 66 of them died. Last year, 24 school children were killed and another 319 were injured by gunfire.
Chicago has been at the center of media attention for several years as some neighborhoods in the city have been wracked by gun violence and crime. Indeed, on the day Pendleton was killed, two other murders happened, bringing the total number for January to 43—making this the deadliest January in a decade. There were more than 500 gun murders in Chicago last year, up 38 percent from the year before.
But of course, these murders aren’t taking place randomly all over the city. In fact, they have been pretty much contained to the Black majority South and West Sides.
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Obama didn’t attend Pendleton’s funeral, but other representatives of the local and national political establishment did, including Michelle Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and a host of other figures.
This local unsolved murder was catapulted into the ongoing national debate over gun control. Yet Chicago is a curious place for such a discussion—because it has some of the most stringent gun laws in the country. Illinois is the only state in the nation with no so-called “concealed carry” law. There are no gun shops or civilian shooting ranges in Chicago, and until last year, it was virtually illegal to own a gun within city limits.
Nevertheless, Chicago is one of the most well-armed cities in the country. Chicago police complain that there are more guns on Chicago streets than in other big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Last year, according to the Associated Press, Chicago police seized more than 7,400 guns, three times the number seized in New York.
It’s understandable that ordinary Chicagoans, particularly in communities bearing the brunt of gun violence and crime, would want to try to get the guns out of the hands of children who are killing their peers. Hadiya Pendleton’s is one among so many arbitrary and utterly senseless deaths. The weekend before Hadiya was killed, a Chicago resident named Shirley Chambers lost her fourth child—the last of her four children—to gun violence.
Yet the response of political leaders like Rahm Emanuel shows not only that they aren’t asking the right questions about gun violence—but that they are pushing for the wrong answers. Emanuel and Police Chief Garry McCarthy used the occasion of Pendleton’s death to announce the deployment of 200 more cops on city streets.
The endless clamoring for more gun laws, more law enforcement, more jails, more prisons and more punishment obscure the more important discussion about why gun violence exists in the first place, why it might be getting worse and, most importantly, what can be done about it.
The call for more police to be deployed in African American communities in Chicago can never be taken lightly. Chicago police have a long history of misconduct, abuse and even torture of Black suspects. The television news program 60 Minutes recently aired a segment about false confessions and corruption in the Chicago Police Department and the local state’s attorney’s office. In January, the City Council approved $33 million in payouts for settlements in just two civil lawsuits involving police violence.
So this is hardly an institution that can be counted on to evenhandedly enforce gun laws and stop violence in Black communities.
There is a causal connection between more arrests and growing problems with crime. As police continue to arrest young African American men and women, it pushes them further and further from opportunities to survive. Author Michelle Alexander has written extensively about how what she calls “the New Jim Crow” has created a permanent unemployable group of mostly African American men who have drug and other minor convictions.
More police on the streets raises the probability of more encounters with law enforcement, leading to arrests for petty crimes and criminal records that make it virtually impossible for young Black men—and an increasing number of young Black women—to get meaningful employment. This inevitability pushes people into the unconventional job market, where drug dealing, prostitution, theft and more become the means for people to feed themselves and their families.
In other words, more police is part of the problem.