Here is a moving statement from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen GJ Lewis, t on the shooting death of King College Prep student Hadiya Pendleton, a star student who was gunned down a little more than a week after she participated in President Obama’s inauguration as part of her school’s band. She was killed in a park about a mile from the Obama family home in Kenwood, and two teenage boys were also shot but survived. The Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago police believe the teens were mistakenly targeted in a gang incident, and that a reward of $24,000 for information leading to an arrest is being offered.
Hadiya was the 42nd victim of homicide in Chicago in January. Here is the statement by Lewis, released on Thursday:
This has been a trying week for our brothers and sisters in Chicago schools and all of us at the Chicago Teachers Union. We had these same feelings after losing Heaven Sutton, Aliyah Shell, Tyquan Tyler, Nazia Banks and the other nearly 60 children under the age of 17 who were senselessly cut down by violence last year.
We have much pain in our hearts, but the most sorrow comes in the fact that unless something is done right now by all of us who have some influence in these young lives, this is pain that we are sure to feel again.
I spent much of yesterday morning visiting with students, teachers and administrators at King College Prep, the school Hadiya Pendleton attended before her young and innocent life was taken Tuesday afternoon. The King community is, to put it simply, devastated. Hadiya was 15 years old and a smart, bright girl—a drum majorette and a Latin student—with no limit to what she could have achieved in the future. To those who loved her, she was a daughter, a sister and a friend.
As I spoke to teachers at King, each of them had their own way of reflecting and reacting to this tragedy, but they all viewed this incident through the lens of, “What can we do that’s best for the children? How can we protect our kids?” Hadiya wasn’t skipping school, nor was she in a gang. This is finals week at King, which is why she was out of school so early that day. She went to the park with some friends. That’s what kids do.
The prevalence of violence on our streets is starting to reduce the wonderful qualities that kids like Hadiya possess—qualities we all want in our children—to homicide statistics. As an educator, I empathize with the teachers for whom the aftermaths of these incidents are grave daily realities. We’re living in a society that’s completely out of kilter. Our children feel disrespected and their outsized response is violence. They’re given no methodology for learning how to cope with their anger.
Our city can no longer ignore its duty to protect our children. This is a refrain that echoes each time a child is shot down, but at some point, the status quo and the violence must end. I’m tired of hearing the narrative that says parents don’t care about their children. The combination of poverty and violence is a dual punishment for us all. But what about the working poor who have little time to watch over their children because they spend 12-16 hour days providing for their families? Some of their children are among those who feel unsafe and angry at society for not keeping them safe. So they lash out. Again, that’s what kids do.
In our neighborhoods, we suffer from the scars of violence and not being able to ask people for help when we need it. This creates disconnect between communities and solutions. We must stop propagating a war on drugs. It’s been an abject failure and has created many ancillary and unintended consequences. Prosecuting ‘offenders’ in the war on drugs only has made the situation worse.
We also need to stop adhering to the theory that if you go work hard and do for self then everything will be fine. This hasn’t proven to be true. We must establish a widespread concept of respect in our young people—ways to earn it, negotiate it and positively deal with and learn from its absence. We need a second war on poverty in our country, and job creators need to bring employment to our low-income, impoverished communities. Jobs give life meaning.
Children need productivity, because productivity is what a mentally and physically healthy child will crave. I look at regions that have succeeded in reducing violence against children as models, such as Venezuela and its classical music education enterprise, El Sistema. We must guide our children in channeling all of their anger and hostility into something positive, train educators to help parents be successful at what they do and reclaim schools as the anchors of our communities.
We all need to be part of these solutions. The union works with most—if not all—of the schoolchildren in Chicago every day, and we know that agencies of influence must honestly engage in dialogue with principals, teachers and paraprofessionals and school-related personnel members in their schools to gather an idea of what needs to be done to combat violence within building walls and on the street. We are not only experiencing the loss of young lives, but also widespread trauma among family, friends and communities. Clinicians, and in particular social workers, counselors, psychologists, and nurses, are often left out of discussions despite having the expertise on the aftermath of these tragedies. All too often, there is a one-day ‘grief counseling’ event when students and staff are at the height of shock, but the real need for wrap-around services and grief therapy occurs weeks and months after the event.
Our members and members of the community are the eyes and ears these agencies should be depending on, in addition to engaging students to learn what their personal fears are regarding safety, bullying and gang recruitment and retaliation. This is the same concept applied to neighborhood watch—everyone’s fight, everyone’s victory.
It is imperative that we continue to explore and work together to see how we might make a difference in our city, where there are an alleged 164,000 gang members infiltrating our neighborhoods and streets. We welcome a call from CPD [Chicago Police Department] Superintendent Garry McCarthy to solicit the input and assistance of our members, because Hadiya is more than a statistic to us. She is family, she is innocence lost, and while we are not foolish enough to think she will be the last member of our family to perish, we will continue our efforts to fight for the more than 400,000 students in CPS so they have the opportunity to learn and grow up as leaders—and protectors—of future generations.