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‘Don’t let it be your child,’ Hadiya’s mom says as hearses dramatize cost of violence

CleopatrPendletaddresses rally Sunday Kennicott Park. Her  daughter Hadiywas shot death January. Funeral directors held processional empty hearses highlight violence

Cleopatra Pendleton addresses a rally Sunday at Kennicott Park. Her daughter, Hadiya, was shot to death in January. Funeral directors held a processional of empty hearses to highlight the violence problem. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 12, 2013 6:30AM

Under police escort, more than 20 hearses pulled away from the Harold Washington Cultural Center, causing traffic to stop Sunday afternoon. A driver on 47th Street called out to a passerby, “Whose funeral is it?”

It was for no one and yet it was intended for everyone.

African-American-owned funeral homes in Chicago, together with colleagues from other cities, staged the procession of empty hearses to dramatize the problem of gun violence and its cost in young lives. They said burying children was no business they wanted and they hoped the event would spur neighborhoods from grief to action.

The procession passed King College Prep, where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot to death in January, was an honor student. Her murder brought new attention to the dangers young people face.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo Pendleton, took part in Sunday’s event. They said they plan to launch a foundation in their daughter’s name to address at-risk youth.

Cleo Pendleton said she is working on details of the foundation. In the meantime, the parents said they take comfort in local responses to the violence. Lawmakers in Washington and Springfield are being asked to enact anti-gun measures, and Cleo Pendleton said two groups should be targeted: gun traffickers and straw buyers.

Speaking to about 60 people at Kennicott Park, where the hearses gathered, Pendleton said “senseless acts of violence” exact a terrible toll. “They are to the detriment of so many people, even the families of the shooter,” she said.

To other parents, she said, “Think about it and find a way to get involved. Don’t let it be your child” who is the next victim.

Nate Pendleton said reducing violence will require efforts on several fronts. “Economic development education, social programs for kids. We’ve got to find things for them to do,” he said.

Two men have been charged in Hadiya’s murder, which happened a week after she performed with her high school band at festivities tied to President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

Police have said the suspects are gang members but that Hadiya was not in a gang.

About 30 funeral homes were represented at the event, organized by the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association.

“We’re going to come together and keep this in the forefront of our city to bring attention to what is happening to our children,” said Edward Calahan, president of Calahan Funeral Home, 7030 S. Halsted, which handled the Pendleton service.

Others who spoke at Kennicott Park included city Treasurer Stephanie Neely and Ald. Will Burns (4th).

Neely called for a measure allowing police to “stop and frisk” people, a proposal that even some in crime-prone neighborhoods oppose. Neely argued that critics have no better alternative.

“We have to come up with a solution. We have an environment of ‘no snitch,’ whatever that means,” she said.

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