In early September 2009, Derrion Albert’s killing was caught on video. A year later, the case has now become an infamous depiction of the violence that must be quelled in Chicago.
Albert was murdered near Fenger High School, where he was a student. Teenage boys beat the young man with a wooden plank as dozens of other students brawled. The fight was fueled by the tension between students living in “The Ville,” an area near the high school, and students from “Altgeld Gardens,” a housing project several miles away from the school.
The 2009-2010 school year did show signs of improvement compared to the 2008-2009 one. Twenty-seven Chicago Public School students were killed this school year, a slight decrease from last year’s 32 killings.
Despite the improvement, Tio Hardiman, Director of Ceasefire Illinois, an anti-violence program, says that more needs to be done.
“The conflict that led to the Derrion Albert incident has been resolved,” said Hardiman. “The Ville guys are no longer fighting with the guys at ‘the Garden,’ so that’s a positive, but there is still widespread gangbanging and gang wars that are causing more violence.”
In order to stop the violence, Hardiman and his Ceasefire team have local chapters across the city. Workers are placed in the toughest areas of the city to serve as mediators in conflicts.
“We know that it is hard to reach youth that have already entered the life of drugs and gangs,” he says. “Ceasefire sends capable messengers that are former gang members that have changed their lives around,”
Hardiman adds that the young people are more likely to listen to someone that has been in their shoes before.
Moreover, Ceasefire has shown to be affective. From January to June 2010, Ceasefire mediated over 200 conflicts across the city, possibly saving countless lives. In addition, a study of CeaseFire’s efforts in Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice found significant reductions in homicides, ranging from 41 percent to 73 percent, in nearly all of the neighborhoods in which CeaseFire has worked.
While Ceasefire works hands-on within the communities to stop the violence, the University of Chicago Crime Lab analyzes the causes and possible solutions of it.
“One thing that we are trying to do at the lab is to take a closer look at the anti-violence initiatives to figure out what is working and what is not,” says Roseanna Ander, executive director of the lab. “We feel that when things are tried, we should do a better job of collecting evidence.”
A major emphasis of the Crime Lab has been the importance of reducing gun violence in Chicago.
“When compared to other countries, Chicago is pretty average in almost any type of crime, be it sexual assault, strangulation, beating, etc.” said Ander. “But our gun violence rate blows everyone out of the water.”
According to Crime Lab data, 80 percent of Chicago murders are caused by guns. She adds that in order to reduce the violence, the access to guns has to become more difficult.
Despite the immensity of the problem with violence, students in the Youth Empowerment Project are doing something about it. Through the World Vision Organization, 13 selected students wrote an educational proposal this year which they presented to their representatives in Washington D.C. this past July.
“The students believe that reducing the drop-out rate in high schools will lower the crime rate,” says Nicole Anthony, a youth development specialist for World Vision. “Less idle time means less time to commit crimes.”
The violence in Chicago is difficult to control, but there are several citywide efforts to reduce it. Only time will tell whether the initiatives will make long term change.
“It’s a guessing game,” says Ander. “You don’t always know what is going to work but it is better than simply trying nothing at all.”
Lynda Lopez has been a regular contributor to NewsHour Extra, filing reports on immigration and tuition hikes for college students. This fall she will enter her freshman year at the University of Chicago.