Even by Chicago's grim standards, gun violence in America's third-most-populous city has reached something of a tipping point this month with deaths that have captured the nation's attention, unnerved the mayor and even shut down part of its infrastructure.
On Jan. 14, two lanes of the Eisenhower Expressway, a central commuter artery, had to be closed after a fatal shooting incident spilled onto the highway. Two days later, a 17-year-old was mortally wounded in the back while fleeing a fight after a basketball game featuring Jabari Parker, one of the nation's top high school players. And then there was this week.
The Jan. 29 fatal shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton a mile from President Barack Obama's South Side home was the latest to complicate his drive for stricter gun-control measures, with such violence spiraling in a place with some of the nation's toughest existing laws. It also has threatened the political stature of Mayor Rahm Emanuel by undermining his city's sense of security.
"Nobody knows what to do -- nothing seems to be working," said John McCarron, an urban affairs writer and adjunct professor at DePaul University in Chicago. Incidents such as Pendleton's death are "an embarrassment" to Emanuel because it shows his inability to reduce violence in Obama's hometown.
Pendleton, who had attended the president's inauguration in Washington earlier this month, died after taking shelter from the rain with other students near King College Prep High School, where she was a band majorette and played volleyball. She was shot in the back, and a 16-year-old boy was wounded by a gunman who sped away in a car, police said.
The mid-afternoon shooting occurred beneath a metal canopy in a small park with brightly painted playground equipment. The violence belied the tidy order of a street with restored brownstones and newly constructed brick townhouses.
"People go to work and take care of their kids" here, said Reggie Jones, assistant band director at Pendleton's school. "This is mind-boggling because you wouldn't expect to see this happen in this environment. Not around here."
Friends and relatives described Pendleton as a solid, disciplined student who smiled a lot and wanted to be a lawyer. "She never showed fear," Jones said.
Standing in the park a few feet away from the shooting site, Vakiya Bedford, 17, said her cousin was determined to succeed because that's what was taught at home. "Her parents were the type to make sure you're studying and getting your homework done -- work before play," Bedford said.
"Nothing pains you more than calling a fellow parent to try to comfort them," Emanuel said during an unrelated news conference yesterday, displaying emotion. "She is what is best in our city. A child going to school, who takes a final exam, who had just been to the inaugural. And I think if anybody has any information, you are not a snitch. You're a citizen."
At a news briefing in the park yesterday, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said his department had little information that would lead them to the killer. Pendleton had no arrest record or any history of gang affiliation, nor did any of the innocent children who were with her, McCarthy said.
"This situation happens all too frequently in the city of Chicago," said McCarthy, who pleaded for community cooperation in the investigation and offered a reward of at least $11,000 for information leading to the killer. "We have very little to go on."
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SOURCE: Bloomberg News
Tim Jones and John McCormick