On January 21, 2013, Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year old, African-American high school student was in Washington D.C., performing with her school's band at arguably one of the most symbolic Presidential Inaugurations in history. Not only was Barack Obama, a man of color, being sworn in for a second term, he was doing it on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Both his re-election and Hadiya's participation were a poignant coda to the slain civil rights leader's legacy.
One week later, more than 80 clergy leaders representing ministers, Catholic clergy, rabbis, and imams, were also in Washington to advocate for more aggressive interventions in urban areas where gun violence is more prevalent. While this group was petitioning for greater support, Hadiya Pendleton was shot dead on a playground in Chicago. She was the 42nd victim of gun violence in Chicago since Jan. 1.
Elie Weisel, the noted Holocaust-chronicler, says during that era, there were three kinds of people: victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. As a human-rights activist, he suggests this formula be considered whenever we discuss a large scale, life-threatening crisis. Gun violence in America is a large scale, life-threatening crisis. Until we are able to recognize that Hadiya Pendleton's death requires the same amount of outrage and action as the recent horrific mass shootings, we are all, at best, simply bystanders.
Who are the victims? They are the innocent people in cities, in suburbs, and in rural areas that die because of a culture of violence that promotes guns as the solution to any scale crisis. They are the people whose cries for help turn deadly because ill-regulated firearms are always close at hand. The victims are also the walking wounded who sustained permanent injury, and the children who live in areas where they are more likely to be killed by a gun than they are to graduate high school.