Derrion Albert: The Death that Riled the Nation

Share:

February 14, 2012
The Interrupters, an intimate journey across the violent landscape of our cities through the eyes of those working to sow peace and security, airs on FRONTLINE Feb. 14. Check your local listings.

On Sept. 24, 2009, Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honors student, was walking home from Fenger High School when he found himself amidst a violent confrontation between two rival groups from the school. Though the authorities and eyewitnesses say Albert was an innocent bystander, he was pulled into the fight and severely beaten. He died a short time later.

Albert was the third teenager killed in Chicago that month, and his death ignited a firestorm because it was captured in a cell phone video. The gruesome footage, which shows Albert kicked, stomped on and hit over the head with a wooden plank, went viral across the country, drawing attention to Chicago’s youth violence problem.

In The Interrupters, filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) takes you inside Chicago’s inner-city violence and gang problems, profiling three “violence interrupters” who work for the innovative program CeaseFire, which is the brainchild of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin. Slutkin, who for 10 years battled the spread of cholera and AIDS in Africa, believes that the spread of violence mimics that of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: Go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source.

In an excerpt from the film embedded above, interrupter Ameena Matthews helps Derrion’s mother, Anjanette Albert, and his sister Rhaea, as they plan a vigil and funeral for him.

“Ameena is very, very important to us, “Anjanette says. “Everything I went through, she was right there with me.”

It has been more than three years since Albert was killed, and the five young men who were charged with his murder — identified with the help of the video — are all serving between 15 and 32 years in prison. The youngest of them was 15 years old at the time of the beating.

But for Albert’s family, the pain doesn’t stop.

After Albert’s death, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a $500,000 grant for after school student support programs and transportation for students to and from Fenger High School.

“This is not about the money. Money alone will never solve this problem. It’s about our values,” Duncan said. “It’s about who we are as a society. And it’s about taking responsibility for our young people, to teach them what they need to know to live side-by-side and deal with their differences without anger or violence.”


In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

As Biden Announces End of U.S. ‘Combat Mission’ in Iraq, 21 FRONTLINE Docs Provide Context
President Biden said July 26 the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is drawing to a close. These documentaries illuminate the Iraq War and its aftermath.
July 28, 2021
THE PEGASUS PROJECT Live Blog: Major Stories from Partners
A curated and regularly updated list of news articles from our partners in “The Pegasus Project,” a collaborative investigation among 17 journalism outlets around the world.
July 28, 2021
‘A disturbing shooting’: Salt Lake County district attorney says officer was justified in killing handcuffed man
An exasperated district attorney tried to get two points across at a Thursday news conference. The first is that as the law is currently written, Longman’s shooting was justified. The second is that Gill thinks the law should be changed. 
July 22, 2021
What Is the Fatemiyoun Brigade and Why Does It Make the Taliban Nervous?
Amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Taliban leaders claim Iran is mobilizing its proxy militia the Fatemiyoun for civil war within Afghanistan.
July 20, 2021