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Hadiya’s mom backs legislation for stiffer gun violation sentences

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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:22AM

Nine months after her murdered, 15-year-old daughter became the nationwide face of Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence, Cleopatra Pendleton can’t help but wonder, “What if?”

What if the Illinois Legislature had already approved a mandatory minimum, three-year sentence for gun crimes before Jan. 29, the day Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down while hanging out with friends at a park a few blocks from King College Prep?

“Learning that my daughter’s alleged murderer had been in jail for another gun crime was devastating. It was like rubbing salt in an open wound. It was like losing her all over again,” Pendleton said Tuesday.

“Every day, I wake up with a reminder that I’m in a world without her — without her life without her laughter, without her love. I wonder if a larger mandatory minimum had been in place if the person [who] allegedly shot and killed my daughter would have been in jail and Hadiya would still be alive.”

On Tuesday, Pendleton and other grieving parents channeled their pain into a powerful political force. They joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez at a City Hall news conference to plead with the General Assembly to approve stiffer sentences for gun crimes. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police is also backing the legislation.

“In my community, carrying an illegal gun is no big deal. But it needs to be a big deal. The point here is not to throw more people in jail. The goal is to make it [known] up-front to those individuals [who] carry illegal weapons that jail time is, in fact, a real consequence,” Pendleton said. “Some think about guns as an accessory. What they need to know is that it is . . . a homicide waiting to happen. Before they walk out the door, they need to stop and think twice. They have a choice to put down the gun and stay out of prison and save someone else’s life. Not only someone else, but their own.”

Carolyn Wortham’s 30-year-old police officer son, Thomas IV, survived two tours of duty in Iraq only to be gunned down in 2010 in front of the boyhood home built by his grandfather after having dinner with his parents.

The home is located across from Cole Park, a park the officer had worked to make safe for local kids.

“Tommy would be here today, possibly, if this law had been in place,” Wortham said Tuesday. “If this law is passed, it can possibly impacton people maybe making the choice not to pick up that gun — not to carry that firearm and prevent something tragic from happening rather than have to correct it on the back end.”

The John Howard Association has questioned whether a three-year-minimum sentence for illegal gun possession, along with a requirement that those convicted serve 85 percent of their sentences, would deter more people from carrying firearms illegally. The Illinois Department of Corrections has also warned about the $1 billion cost of housing an additional 3,860 prisoners over 10 years.

On Tuesday, Emanuel shot down all of those claims. The mayor argued that deterrence occurs on the front end and that it’s preposterous that those convicted of gun crimes face the same penalty as shoplifters. He also claimed that marijuana tickets have removed 1,200 small-time users that used to clog the courts and jails.

As for the $1 billion pricetag, the mayor said, “I will never, ever, ever accept the notion that a human life is reduced to whether a state budget can take the issue from a cost-benefit analysis jail time versus what it’s done to these families.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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