The American criminal justice system consists of 2.2 million people behind bars, plus tens of millions of family members, corrections and police officers, parolees, victims of crime, judges, prosecutors and defenders.
WBEZ is partnering with the Marshall Project to tell some of their stories. It’s part of The Marshall Project’s series “We Are Witnesses” exploring the nature of crime, punishment and forgiveness through portraits of Chicagoans who have been touched by the criminal justice system.
Nathaniel Pendleton and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton told their story to The Marshall Project as part of their series “We Are Witnesses.” Portions of their interviews are transcribed below. They have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Nathaniel: Hadiya was a person that could talk to you and you would pretty much kind of forget her age. In high school, she joined the majorettes [and] the debate team.
Cleopatra: She loved to read — the bigger the book the better; the smaller book, it was like a waste of her time. And she loved school. She would stay at school ‘til it shut down.
Cleopatra: The shooting took place in the Bronzeville area at Harsh Park.
Nathaniel: She was doing what kids do: go to the park, hang out, you know, sit with friends.
Cleopatra: And while everyone was talking, someone looked up and said that they saw someone with a gun, and the kids started running, and he started shooting and Hadiya got shot in the back.
Cleopatra: When I first heard about the shooting, I didn’t understand how that could be because that was never anything I was ever afraid that would have occurred. It just wasn’t her lane.
Nathaniel: It was supposedly a rival gang. They thought that my daughter’s group was their rival gang. [But] she was there with most of the volleyball team, so how could someone mistake a rival gang for a volleyball team?
Nathaniel: [Since the shooting], me and my whole family has changed. I know that I’m a lot stricter as far as gun violence, because if you take an innocent life, you should pay with your ultimate price.
Cleopatra: You knew when you put bullets in the gun that you were going to possibly take someone’s life. I want the judge to give the maximum sentencing allowed for the crimes that Hadiya’s shooter had been charged with. So yeah, I do believe that [for] a life, there should be another life taken.
Cleopatra: Who’s going to tell me how to feel when I’m visiting a cemetery? Even though the shooter will basically have life behind bars, he’s still winning because his mom gets to write letters and go visit. We get to visit the cemetery.
Nathaniel: I would love for his mother to understand the hurt that we have because I don’t think she could possibly know. Her son is still living.
Cleopatra: Until you walk a day in my shoes, you can’t tell me anything.
You can see more of the “We Are Witnesses: Chicago” videos at https://www.themarshallproject.org/witnesses. This story was produced for broadcast by WBEZ’s Alyssa Edes. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.