To honor shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton, we need more than a park

Hadiya Pendleton was buried at Cedar Park Cemetery on Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29, 2013, when a gunman opened fire on her and several friends in a playlot about a mile from President Obama’s Chicago home. First lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral with Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Photo by Lucio Villa

Hadiya Pendleton was buried at Cedar Park Cemetery on Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29, 2013, when a gunman opened fire on her and several friends in a playlot about a mile from President Obama’s Chicago home. First lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral with Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

When I read the headlines about the decision to rename a South Side playlot after shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton, the first emotion I felt was not happiness. Or satisfaction. Or pride. It was sadness, and a little anger. That’s because renaming the play lot at 4345 S. Calumet Avenue for Hadiya strikes me as an empty gesture.

It’s not to say that Hadiya does not deserve to be honored. By all accounts, Hadiya, who attended King College Prep High School before she was gunned down in January 2013, was a good student and a good kid. Long after she was buried and headlines about her fatal shooting had faded, her parents and friends have continued to speak out against gun violence. Hadiya and her loved ones are deserving of recognition.

But a much better way to honor Hadiya would be to stop the shootings in the North Kenwood neighborhood where she was shot—and end the gun violence in other communities across the city. Renaming a park just doesn’t seem good enough.

I live in North Kenwood, in close proximity to the playlot on South Oakenwald Avenue where Hadiya was shot to death. I was home that day and heard the sirens screech to a stop behind my condo. I was horrified that a young woman simply seeking shelter from the rain with her friends could have her life ended so cruelly and pointlessly so close to my home.

I also am horrified that the shooting in my neighborhood has continued.

On March 29, I counted seven gunshots during the early morning hours. But I couldn’t be sure of the exact number because it was 4 a.m. and I was lying in bed half-asleep.

Later in the day, when I read a posting on NextDoor Kenwood from a neighbor, I knew it wasn’t a bad dream: “Hi All – who else heard all the gunfire at 4 a.m. this morning at 44th/Woodlawn/Lake Park?”

My neighbor said she and her husband had called 911, and she described “shell casings all over the sidewalk.”

Later that day, another neighbor wrote: “My car is one of four that was shot along the East side of Lake Park on the 44th block. The officer that issued my report said the shooting started on Oakenwald, then continued up 44th and onto Lake Park.”

Several days later, I awoke once again to the sound of gunfire. The same neighbor whose car was damaged, wrote: “There was another shooting last night on 46th and Lake Park. One guy was shot, I don’t know his status.”

A woman who lives a block away from her chimed in.  “…the 5 years I have been here, my home has been damaged by bullets on two occasions.”

As a journalist, I have written about gun violence more times than I can count. Even though I felt deep empathy for the people affected by it, hearing the gunshots myself—in my own home, in my own bed—takes those feelings to another level.

In a community where gunfire is becoming increasingly commonplace, will parents want to take their children to the playlot named for Hadiya? Will it feel like a safe place to play? How long will it be before someone else’s child gets killed in one of Chicago’s parks or playgrounds?

This is not the way to live.

That’s why I think the greatest legacy of Hadiya’s death would be to stop the gunfire once and for all.