Guilty By Association? Hanging Out With ‘The Wrong Crowd’ Doesn’t Justify A Teen’s Murder

guilty by associationLet’s talk for a bit about responsibility. Specifically, let’s talk about the responsibility each individual has to keep themselves safe and to keep their communities safe. We’re going to have this talk because yesterday a 15-year-old young woman was shot in the back in Chicago. Her name was Hadiya Pendleton and her murder is gaining plenty of media coverage because the beautiful teen recently performed in President Obama‘s Second Inaugural celebration with her school’s band.

When we covered Hadiya’s tragic death this morning, one of our commenters immediately responded by saying this:

If it is true that she was an innocent bystander and that someone just randomly opened fire against her group, then it likely stands to reason that somebody else of her group was the intended target. This girl being so “special” and whatnot should have known not to associate with people who are involved in things that might get them shot. She should have kept better associates and friends. She should have not hanged out with that group.

No matter how tight the gun laws get there’s always gonna be criminals out there and the priority should be to teach our kids to not be taken in by their bravado and whatnot, to not idolize criminal life in music or reality tv shows and to instil in them that they should always keep their distance at any hint of criminal behavior from someone. Yes, that actually includes smoking pot too!

Immediately, the staff of Mommyish was taken aback. We’ve seen victim-blaming when it comes to sexual assault victims, but a girl who was murdered? This was a new low.

For the record, new reports say that Hadiya was hanging out in Harsh Park in Chicago with her school volleyball team. They were just blocks away from King College Prep, where Hadiya attended school. They had finished exams on Tuesday and made their way to the park in the middle of the afternoon.

But no matter what her personal circumstances were, it is both ridiculous and insulting to this young woman’s memory to suggest that her murder could somehow be her fault. To suggest that someone who died is “guilty by association,” and therefore deserves to be shot or beaten or raped. If we really want to teach teens about personal responsibility, why are we telling them that any problem they have or any evil that befalls them is due to spending time with “the wrong crowd”? That spreads blame. It leads to a lack of accountability, not more of it.

By that logic, every person in this country is guilty. We have all allowed our communities to be affected by gun culture. We’ve seen action movies where countless people are killed. We’ve listened to music that glorifies guns and disrespects women. So if any one of us is murdered, does that make it our fault?

Ultimately, the person who pulled the trigger is the one responsible for the damage done. Someone didn’t value the lives of those around them, and that choice left a 15-year-old girl dead and a family in mourning.

Now, as a community, as a group of human beings who share the same country, do we need to work to make our streets, parks and neighborhoods safer? I believe we do. I believe that this is something we should come together on. We should work to pass gun control legislation. We should thoughtfully consider the amount of gun violence that is acceptable in media and entertainment. We should have discussions with young people about violence.

At the same time, we should not be telling teens that it is their job to stay home scared and lock themselves away from the world, just to make sure that they don’t become victims. Just like we don’t stop rape by telling women not to go to bars or be out late at night, we need to focus the conversation on personal responsibility, that means the responsibility of the perpetrator. The way for teens to make their world safer is to never commit a violent crime. It’s to respect their fellow human beings and to encourage those around them to do the same. It is not to hide themselves away or ignore anyone who might be associated with “the wrong crowd.”

(Photo: Victor Correia/Shutterstock)

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  • chickadee

    Thank you. That comment needed to be address on a larger platform than that of the comments section.

  • Véronique Houde

    Thank you for your quick reaction to that ignorant comment this morning.

  • CMJ

    That comment made my blood boil.

  • Byron

    To be honest that comment sounded like trolling or perhaps a parody of Rush Limbaugh, maybe it even was he himself!

    I’m not sure about everyone in the country being “guilty” but I do believe we share some responsibility on the matter. This violence problem is so deeply ingrained in our society I’m not even sure anything can be done about it any more. Tighter gun laws are a good start I guess.

  • Amanda

    I don’t think the commenter meant that she ‘deserved’ it… I live in Philly and my cousin (who was also my best friend) was murdered at 14 years old in a drive-by shooting. No, the shots weren’t aimed at her, but they were aimed at a boy that she was hanging out with at that moment. Did she deserve to be shot or killed? Not at all, and I hope her murderer rots in hell. Should she have known better to associate herself with a boy who was messing with the wrong crowd? Yes.

    I don’t think the commenter knew that this girl was just hanging out with her volleyball team, but I think she was just putting it out there as an option of what may have happened. I don’t think anyone was trying to victim blame at all, but that’s just my opinion.

    • lea

      I really don’t think you are quite grasping what the term victim blaming means.

      If you hold a victim in any way even partially responsible for a crime committed against them- you are victim blaming. Plain and simple.

      “Should she have known better….”

      Classic victim blaming.

    • Paul White

      I have to disagree.

      Saying you shouldn’t walk around downtown at midnight flashing a roll of cash isn’t victim blaming. It’s self preservation.

      Saying you shouldn’t take drinks from random strangers isn’t victim blaming. It’s self preservation.

      That doesn’t imply moral culpability–I think that’s where there’s a huge disconnect in how people perceive any and all comments like that as victim blaming. There’s a world of difference between “she/he deserved it” and “she/he put themselves in a dangerous situation and a predator took advantage of it.” Or, “he/she put themselves in a dangerous situation and had colossal bad luck.” You remove those predators when you can, but you can’t ever get them all, particularly before they hurt someone. Those of us with an interest in self protection, who’ve read books like “The Gift of Fear”, or have experienced violent crimes, tend to realize that.

      When I’m talking about the safety of myself or my family, morality and moral culpability don’t really factor into my discussion. I make myself an unattractive target because that’s safer. I know how to avoid bad situations, and I strive to be able to handle them should they arise. I plan to teach my kid(s) to do the same.

      I can leave my door unlocked while I’m at work; that doesn’t give a person the right to rob me. Hell, I could go travel off the coast of Somalia; that doesn’t give pirates the right to kidnap me for ransom. I could get drunk in a bar till I pass out; that does not give people the right to take my wallet. But all those behaviors certainly increase the risk to me that bad things will happen.

      As a parent, I don’t want my kid to put themselves in a vulnerable set of circumstances. That doesn’t totally avoid danger of course–nothing does–but it helps one hell of a lot.

      I worry that the avoidance of victim blaming is going to go so far that people that offer basic safety tips (don’t hang around with criminals; don’t take drinks from strangers; don’t leave your doors unlocked) are getting painted as victim blaming.

    • K.

      This doesn’t have that much to do with this particular situation or the column as written.

      Hadiya Pendleton was with other members of her school volleyball team–none of which appear to have been affiliated with gangs as originally reported–after school when it started to rain. So they ran for cover at a shelter (sounds like a gazebo or something) in a public park. Which is where a gunman opened fire on them. We don’t know who the gunman is, so I find all the speculation on “gang turf war” grossly overwrought–they *could* have been mistaken for members of a rival gang; one of her friends could have had an abusive ex-boyfriend; maybe one of her friends looked at some other kid the wrong way earlier in gym; maybe the gunman was mentally ill; maybe the gunman was a fan of a rival volleyball team. We don’t know.

      So…a 15-year-old walking home from school in a group. Last I checked, that was precisely what I was told to do by my own parents in terms of personal safety–to walk home in groups. They also told me to be aware of my surroundings, which I *kind of* was (it’s hard to be that vigilant when you’re with a group a friends), but I doubt that vigilance would have saved Pendleton in this case. You don’t really walk around expecting some gunman to open fire on you in a public park in the afternoon.

      My point was that there’s nothing, at this point in the news cycle, that can be said that Pendleton should have done differently to save her life. I think that you’re right in that to keep our kids safe, we should teach them to live responsibly, but by all accounts that IS what Pendleton was doing.

    • Paul White

      I agree with your take on the article (and that comment in particular). I was more responding to the responses to Amandas post, in particular Lea’s post. It seems like even acknowledging that your actions can place you at risk is antithetical to that world view, and that frankly baffles me.

    • K.

      I love it when people say stupid shit, tack on some personal story as background as if it gives them some personal authority to say stupid shit, and then qualify it with “but that’s just my opinion” because it’s a phrase that they expect will somehow shield them from criticism–any attack on their argument becomes some personal attack on them. Well, you don’t get a ‘pass’ on voicing a stupid opinion because it happens to be a ‘personal’ opinion or because it’s ‘personal’ to you. So on that note:

      Hey, Amanda, do you have children? If I saw you on the street with your children, shot at you, and then mistakenly hit one of your children and killed them and put the other in the hospital, then is it acceptable for me to say, “Well yeah, tragic that I killed that innocent child, but you know, they WERE hanging out with a mother who says stupid shit on the Internet.”

      And yeah, it’s a rude hypothetical, no I don’t wish it on you, but it’s rude for a reason and before you get all, “Oh well that’s MEAN and UNCALLED for and how DARE you attack ME, I’m entitled to my [stupid] opinion!!” let me remind you: there is a mother out there who has to bury her child and then has to listen to arrogant twits like you speculate about what was ‘wrong’ with her child that somehow made her child’s death explainable: wrong friends, wrong neighborhood, wrong attire, wrong time of day…
      Now, you are right in that no one was trying to victim-blame…because no one ever really ‘tries’ to blame victims–they simply do. As you are doing here. I’m sure that in general, you’re a nice person, but your comment is nasty, judgmental, and self-righteous. And that’s ‘just my opinion.’

    • Amanda

      Lol, no, I do not have children – I am a college student. I’m not going to go on a rant or argue your comment because you have the right to hold your own opinion, as do I. I’m also not going to sit here and childishly call your opinion ‘stupid’ just because I don’t agree with you.

    • K.

      You’re right–”stupid” was the wrong adjective and yes, probably childish. I’ll amend it to “sanctimonious” and “cruel.”

    • K.

      You’re right–”stupid” was the wrong adjective and yes, probably childish. I’ll amend it to “sanctimonious” and “cruel.”

  • mertzdog

    I liked the article and think that part of what you are saying here is that guns don’t kill people people do!