No Safe Passage: Little Rock to Chicago

Remember the eight extraordinary students in Little Rock who ultimately required the presence of troops for their safe passage into the school they finally integrated? Where was Derrion Albert's safe passage?
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Last week, the heartbreaking beating death of 16-year-old Chicago student Derrion Albert was captured on video, unleashing a fresh wave of sorrow on the South Side, another layer of fear and terror among students and families in the community, and -- painfully, the predictable calls from authorities for more harsh treatment of youth -- that is, some youth.

Indeed, the videotape shows other youngsters, ages 16, 17, 18 and 19, carrying out the tragic, terrible and fatal attack on Derrion. But what else do we need to ask? What more do we want to know?

First, the nearby school, Fenger Academy, is a newly reconstituted "Turnaround" school. Carver High School was closed by the Chicago Board of Education, and long-time teachers and staff fired, radically destabilizing already challenged communities and pushing students out and across gang territory into unfamiliar settings. Two schools, Fenger Academy and Carver Military School were created with new teachers and staff for the 2009-2010 school year. This made little sense to the community or to the youth from Altgeld Gardens housing development, who now are assigned to Fenger rather than Carver. The students were not consulted about their safety or their school preference.

Second, there were numerous requests to police and school officials from the families, teachers and community members for safe passage community protection between home and school for students (and teachers). Remember the eight extraordinary students from Central High School in Little Rock who ultimately required the presence of their own mobilized community, the world media, and U.S. troops for their safe passage into the school they finally integrated over 50 years ago? Where was Derrion's safe passage?

Third, it is an adult problem that our children attempt to attend school in a war zone in certain areas of Chicago -- a citizen problem, systemic and societal. One hundred sixty-three children were killed in the past two years in Chicago and more than double that number wounded. By the end of September of this school year, three children have already been killed and seven more shot. These are war numbers.

It is adults and adult society who have failed Roseland's children by tolerating these chronic conditions in our city. In the mid-1990s, Roseland was the notorious home of 11-year-old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, the tiny youngster alleged to have killed and then was himself killed. Were this in Colombia, the Congo or Myanmar, we would recognize that children who are recruited into warring groups by much older adults to fight as child soldiers must be disarmed, demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community. Human rights holds those adult leaders responsible as war criminals for the recruitment, arming, training, and deployment of children turned into instruments of violence. Here, we deem these youthful pawns as irredeemable and condemn them to adult prosecution and long-term incarceration.

Fourth, when a disastrous school murder or even just a tragic accidental death of a student occurs in white suburban neighborhoods of Chicago, the community is flooded with experts to address and reduce trauma. These health and clergy professionals work with students, teachers, parents, and administrators as part of an extended public health process. Of course Roseland has its own expertise and wisdom in survival and coping with tragedy. But where are the equivalent official resources and trauma response of caring and compassion for those in this African-American community? What do the kindergarten children make of this?
Our tax dollars, more than one trillion per year, purportedly are going to make areas free from violence across the globe. Certainly we can provide our children here with basic safety, equal education, and solidarity.

So let's ask where we went wrong, each time we assert how these youth went wrong. And let's hold the authorities to the same harsh standards they apply to our adolescents.

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