When Chicago detectives hunted down Hadiya Pendleton’s alleged murderers they also exposed Chicago as a cold-hearted town.
Nothing — not the death of an innocent honor student, not the tears of her parents, not the pleas of our mayor to do the right thing, not even a $40,000 reward — could break the “no-snitch” code.
The murder investigation offered our city the best chance to chip away at the code of silence that police say keeps them from solving murders and keeps shooters on the street.
And we blew it.
Not one person stepped forward to finger the shooter and his getaway driver, police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
There were tips and leads, but none of them led to the arrest of Michael Ward and Kenneth Williams.
What’s worse is that a couple idiots — people who had information that could have helped catch the bad guys sooner — refused because they were too stupid to do the math on the reward money.
McCarthy said the potential witnesses figured half of $40,000 was about $2,000 each — not nearly enough to out the men who killed Hadiya.
In spite of all that silence, detectives rounded up video evidence, tracked down witnesses and made a case strong enough to bring charges against the gangbangers police say shot up Harsh Park and killed Hadiya and wounded two other innocent kids.
If the detectives are right — and that’s something a jury will ultimately decide — they’ll be hailed as heroes.
But don’t let that distract us from what their dogged investigation showed the country — Chicagoans are a people willing to look the other way, dutifully harbor shooters and protect murderers no matter who they kill.
Maybe you think it’s unfair to judge our entire city by the silence of a few people who saw a murderer shoot up a park, kill an innocent girl and refuse to say a word.
Well, you’re right. It’s not fair, but that’s how outsiders see us as long as we continue to protect killers with our silence.
On a national stage there’s no differentiating between Lincoln Park and Englewood, solid citizens and no-snitch loyalists, or good and evil.
When people hear about last year’s bloody statistics — 506 murders, 75 percent of murders go unsolved, 94 percent of non-fatal shooting investigations end without criminal charges — they lump us all together.
And Chicago’s nasty reputation for violence will only grow Tuesday after President Obama in his State of the Union address lifts up the murder of Hadiya — a girl who became a martyr rather than a lawyer — as another tragic example of why America needs new laws to combat the shooting epidemic that terrorizes small-town schools and inner-city neighborhoods alike.
And on Friday, Obama is set to arrive in Chicago — his adopted hometown — to address the issue of urban violence, again.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger was among the Chicago clergymen who pushed for the president to come by chastising Obama for fixing health care and bringing troops home from Afghanistan but “ignoring the violence in urban America.”
“I’m glad he’s coming. I think it will be the national unifying force to connect us to violence issues, connect the dots between the shootings that happened in Tucson, Aurora and Connecticut with Chicago,” Pfleger said hours before charges were made in Hadiya’s murder. “The president’s words are huge, but what his presence does is bring the power of the White House here.”
Pfleger said he’s not just talking about new gun laws, mandatory minimum sentences or even a call for federal investigators to target gangs and illegal gun traffickers with the same zeal they target corrupt politicians.
“We need a voice, and the president can do it like no other, to paint a picture of the comprehensive approach we need to solve this problem,” Pfleger said. “That’s resources to provide better schools, jobs in areas where unemployment is twice the average and breaking the code of silence.”
Plfeger is a man who believes in faith and hope.
“My policy has always been if you offer the possibility and the resources and the opportunity for options, 95 percent of the brothers out here will jump,” he said. “The five percent who say, 'I’ll just shoot whatever, I don’t give a damn.' Then, they get locked up. But the majority will take the option to avoid that. I’ve watched it. I know it works. I have great hope in what the president can do and what he’ll say.”
That’s the kind of faith that the Bible says can move mountains, and Pfelger’s words reminded me of something else the Bible says, “Faith without works is dead.”
That's why it makes us look like fools to wait for someone else — police detectives or President Obama — to solve a good kid’s murder or find a solution to our city’s shooting problem.
As long as we remain silent while shooters kill city kids and terrorize neighbors — Hadiya and folks who live near the park where she was shot dead stand as shining examples — all the faith in the world won’t save us.