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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