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Violence In The Windy City


We turn now to an all-too-familiar story of violence here in the U.S. In Chicago, 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed on Tuesday. She was the 42nd person killed in Chicago since the beginning of the year. Last year, there were more than 500 killings. And a number of these murders, particularly of young people, brought the city to tears, but Pendleton's death has brought national attention because she recently performed with her high school drill team at the president's inauguration in Washington, D.C.

According to the authorities, she had taken shelter from a rainstorm along with several friends when a gunman sprayed the group with bullets. Her mother, Cleopatra Pendleton, told a local reporter she had a message for the gunman.

CLEOPATRA PENDLETON: Shame on you. Shame on you. Really? Like, what were you thinking? These are just children.

MARTIN: Joining us now to tell us more is Mary Mitchell. She is an award-winning columnist for the Chicago Sun Times.

Welcome back to the program, Mary. I'm so sorry for the reason that brings us together today.

MARY MITCHELL: Thank you very much for the invitation and - you're right - it is such a tragedy and we hear it all too often in Chicago.

MARTIN: What do we know now? What do the authorities know now about the circumstances that led to Hadiya Pendleton's death? As I understand it, the current thinking is that this was a case of mistaken identity, that the gunman, for some reason, thought the group of people she was with were people with whom he had some sort of altercation. I understand that two other young men were shot the same day, but their injuries were not life threatening. What else do we know?

MITCHELL: Correct. Well, what we know is that, first of all, it was erroneously reported that the group of students were gang-related in some way, that some of them were gang members. That is not correct. These were young people who had finished taking a final exam at a selective enrollment school, King College Prep, and they were in a park on a 60-degree weather day in Chicago. They were teens, 15, 16-year-olds. A man jumped the fence and ran toward them firing five shots. This is what I'm told. Three people were wounded and, of course, Hadiya was killed.

So the idea that it's mistaken identity - that's what they're saying now - I mean, really? It's mistaken identity that a gathering of young people can't be in a park without a alleged gang member or someone - an alleged shooter coming at them? And that's what we're dealing with, the fact that these young people - some of these young people are armed. They are callous, they are ruthless and they are openly, in broad daylight, willing to run and attack people they don't even know.

MARTIN: And, as we mentioned, just to point out, this was 2 o'clock - 2:20 in the afternoon and...

MITCHELL: Right. And I think part of this conversation has to be the fact that, in that community, although it is about a mile from President Barack Obama's Chicago home, that's a gentrifying community - brownstones, greystones, a lot of construction of moderate income housing and mixed community housing. So low income people have been literally pushed out of that community and the thought is that the ones - that maybe some gang members that have remained are trying to claim that territory and saw a group of young people, and thinking that they may have been rivals.

MARTIN: You know, this comes at a very poignant moment in our national history. You know, of course, in December, there was this terrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children lost their lives at an elementary school, along with six adults. And, just yesterday, there were hearings on the hill about efforts to - on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. - about, you know, various legislative kind of frameworks for addressing this. Former congresswoman, who's also a gun violence survivor, Gabrielle Giffords, was among those calling for more strict gun laws.

And Pendleton's death, as you might imagine, brought attention from the White House, as well. I'll just play a short clip from a press briefing on Wednesday where the presidential spokesman, Jay Carney, offered the first family's condolences and said that President Obama is focused on this. Here is a clip.

JAY CARNEY: The president has, more than once, when he talks about gun violence in America, referred not just to the horror of Newtown, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech or Oak Creek, but to shootings on the corner in Chicago or other parts of the country. And this is just another example of the problem that we need to deal with.

MARTIN: Mary Mitchell, I wanted to ask, how are the people who write to you, your readers, other people you talk to in the city - how are they responding to all this? Do they feel that their national leaders are paying enough attention to what's happening in Chicago and some other places around the country? And how do they feel about the attention being focused on gun violence now?

MITCHELL: Well, they're - usually, when I hear from people, their concern is that it takes a mass murder, like what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, to bring and focus attention on a problem that Chicago and a lot of urban areas have been dealing with for years.

This story, Hadiya's story, has been told over and over again in Chicago. It was the story of a seven-year-old, Heaven Sutton, who was selling candy in front of her house and was killed. It's the story of Blair Holt, who was riding a bus on his way from school and threw himself in front of a friend and died because a shooter got on the bus.

So the concern here is that it takes, you know, the murder of someone like Hadiya, who is an honor student and who performed at the inaugural festivities a week ago, to focus attention when, really, children are being killed every day. So they want the strengthening of gun laws, but they also want the gun laws that's already on the books to be enforced.

Illegal gun possession - in most cases, a first time offense is a misdemeanor. That's not right. The fact of the matter is that, you know, police, when they arrive on a scene, they arrive too late. The deed has already been done, so they want more police presence. And to his credit, Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be hearing that message because he is now announcing that he's going to reassign 200 police officers who are on desk duty to the streets. They need more patrol in these neighborhoods and more people to get involved in really helping to try to solve the problem of youth with nothing to do except stand on the corners and sell drugs.

MARTIN: You know, we've reported and we've talked to you many times over the last, you know, couple of years about the sort of dramatic steps that some figures in Chicago have been taking to try to draw attention to this. Do people feel that the rest of the country cares?

MITCHELL: Yes. I think that, when you have a tragic story like this - and our focus is on the fact that this was a brilliant, good girl and that she could die on a beautiful, warm day in Chicago for no other reason than she was at a park - I think that that really gets to the emotions of people and they want something done about it. They want more protection in these communities and they want more attention paid to, really, the kind of conditions that lead people to be involved in activities that can put them on the path to pulling a gun and shooting indiscriminately in a crowd.

MARTIN: Mary Mitchell is a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times. She joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Mary Mitchell, we've talked about this too many times. I fear this won't be the last time, but I thank you...

MITCHELL: I'm sure.

MARTIN: much for speaking with us about this important story. And, please, do keep us informed.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.