By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Last week, I was checking my calendar for upcoming events, when I noticed a reminder: Remember to wear orange on Friday……
If Hadiya Pendleton were alive today, she would be twenty-five years old. You can’t help but wonder what this young woman’s future would have held. As a student at King College Prep High school, in Chicago, Illinois, Hadiya was 15 years old. She was smart and engaged, reveling in student activities. A fixture on the school’s Honor Roll, Hadiya was also a majorette in the marching band.
On a cool January day, in 2013, Hadiya had just finished her final exams and was hanging out with friends at nearby, Harsh Park. By all accounts, the park is located in a safe neighborhood. Manicured lawns, tree lined streets, and beautiful homes populate the area. Heck, President Barack Obama’s Chicago home was just a mile away.
As the group of friends chatted, rain began to fall. It turned out that the weather was the least of their worries. While taking shelter, an unidentified male jumped a fence and ran toward the group of kids. He began shooting at them and Hadiya was struck in the back. Another member of her group was shot in the leg. As quickly as the gunman appeared, he fled in a waiting car. Hadiya died from her injuries. The shooter didn’t know her. He mistook the group of youth as members of a rival gang. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The week before her death, Hadiya had marched with her drill team in President Barack Obama’s 2nd inaugural parade. She and her family had done everything right. Yet, she fell victim to gun violence. The impact of her death was devastating and far reaching. Hadiya became a symbol for the horrors of gun violence in Chicago and around the nation. To honor her memory and raise awareness about the loss of life to gun violence, Hadiya’s friends and family decided to wear orange clothing. The color, which is used by hunters to keep safe in the woods, was an excellent visual reminder of the work that remains.
Like that color, we need to do everything within our power to keep others safe. As legislators, our “orange” also comes in the form of the passage of responsible gun reform laws. Since Hadiya’s death, gun related deaths have continued to rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), in 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S.
These numbers include homicides, suicides, accidental and law enforcement related shootings. The numbers are staggering and represent the reality that a gun is fired every day in this country. In fact, the CDC further determined that 120 Americans are killed with guns and more than 200 people are shot and wounded daily.
While legislators disagree on how to best address the problem, and lobbyists use their outsized resources to stop meaningful legislation from moving forward, private citizens, neighborhood groups, and local municipalities are taking measures into their own hands. Whether gun buy-back or incentive programs, gun courts, or the creation of Violence Preventions offices, residents are not waiting on elected officials to get their acts together. Hadiya is one name. We know that there are hundreds of thousands of names that could have been used in my column. We need to do everything we can to stop that list of names from growing.