I don’t know what part of the video sickened me most.
There was the exultation voiced by the one young…I can’t call him a man because he isn’t of age and he demonstrated no evidence of manhood…punk, who threw a punch at a boy who had been hit across the head by a railroad tie.
There was the boastful bleating of another punk, who screamed aloud, “Put that n—–r to sleep!” I’ll hear that in my head for a long time…or at least until the next savage murder of a young person on the streets of Chicago.
But what sticks with me most is the “Damn!” uttered by the anonymous cameraman, when the thick board made contact with Derrion Albert’s head, rendering him nearly unconscious and starting him along the road to his savage death on 111th Street.
If you haven’t seen the video yet, the one taken near Fenger High School, you should. You should see the depravity, the wanton violence and the out-of-control nature of the melee that took a young life. You should see that the brawl blocked traffic, traveled across the street, and, simply moved down the street when the police siren finally, mercifully sounded.
But what you also see, and hear, is the cameraman, following the action, first in the car, and then, out of the car, on foot, in the midst of the violence. The cameraman, a private citizen, took video of a young man being clubbed and punched and kicked to death. His response was “Damn!”
And then, inexplicably, there was the chuckle at the end, as the violence tailed off down the street. He filmed a battered Derrion Albert being dragged off the street by workers at the Agape Community Center—too late unfortunately, and then he simply turned his camera to see if he could capture more violence.
A year ago, I snatched my daughter out of a Chicago Public School—Chicago Military Academy in Bronzeville—because she told me of the violence in the school and the threats of violence outside.
When my daughter told me of a fight that took over an entire floor of the school, with students coming into classrooms and dragging other students out into the corridors, I was outraged, and went to the school for answers. The military commandant met with me and said, “Yes, there was a big fight yesterday, and it was kind of out of control.” He said they identified some of the perpetrators and suspended them.
He didn’t volunteer that there had been a fight. He didn’t send a note home to parents. He didn’t offer me any kind of assurance that those kinds of fights would not happen again. When my daughter told me that some of the girls in the school told her that she was going to get jumped at the end of the school day, I got her out of there.
According to reports, there had been two other brawls involving the students at Fenger High School this school year. It seems that students from Altgeld Gardens and students from the neighborhood surrounding the school, known as “The Ville,” were feuding, and the feud had turned violent. Earlier in the day, before the latest brawl, there was gunfire outside the school, and there had been a fight among girls also. The fight near the Agape Center was no surprise. Police knew there were problems. School officials knew there were problems. Even parents knew there were problems. And still, Derrion Albert was beaten to death in the street.
If your child is not safe going to school, and doesn’t feel safe, it is sure to have an impact on their academic achievement. If they are threatened every day, accosted every day, in fear of their lives every day, schoolwork becomes secondary. Survival is the primary lesson to be learned.
I don’t know what to tell the parents of Fenger’s students. I would not have my children running that gauntlet every day, risking their lives. Maybe they don’t have any other school to send them to—don’t have money for private school, don’t have the expertise to home school. Maybe they feel they have no choice.
That’s the question for Chicago Public Schools, for Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis and the Chicago police, and for the parents of this city. If your kids aren’t safe, what can you do?
Someone needs to provide an answer, because I don’t want another student—at any school—to star in an amateur video.
(Lou Ransom is executive editor of the Chicago Defender.)