Pubdate: Wed, 30 Sep 2009
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2009 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Clarence Page
Note: Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and 
blogs at


Americans are shocked by youth violence -- again. What a difference
videos make. The fatal beating of a South Side teenager shocks the
world, as it should. Yet the real tragedy differs little from a trail
of similar kid-on-kid violence, except that it was caught on video.

We easily become benumbed after years of tragic headlines about youth
violence. Then we get jerked alert by the horrific video images of
youths fatally beating 16-year-old Derrion Albert, an honor roll
student at Fenger High School.

In our horror it is natural for us to look for someone to blame
besides the suspects that police have rounded up with the help of the
video that the Internet beams around the planet.

It just happens to be the bad fortune of President Barack Obama and
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley that this tragedy coincides with their
efforts to woo the International Olympic Committee, which decides
Friday whether Chicago will beat out Rio, Tokyo and Madrid to host the
2016 Olympics.

As Richard Nixon once said of presidential campaigns, there are no
silver medals in this race. The competition for the games is intense
and so is the opposition in Chicago. Chicagoans were about evenly
split on hosting the games, according to a recent Chicago Tribune
poll. The Internet crackles with critics of the Olympics, Daley, Obama
or all three. Some raise the death of Derrion Albert and other young
victims of school or street violence to argue Chicago might be too
unsafe, too corrupt or too indifferent to the plight of its poor to
host the Olympics.

Unsafe? Compared to ... Rio?

Here's an Associated Press account of life in Rio during a week in
early September: A police shootout "stopped a commuter train and sent
passengers fleeing for cover." Officers conducted a drug raid on a
slum, "keeping 2,000 children out of school." Police gun battles
"killed more than a dozen suspected traffickers." Yet that was the
same week the IOC released a report that gave high praise to Rio's
bid for the 2016 Games.

The sad fact is that most of the violence that plagues metropolises
like Rio or Chicago occurs in parts of town to which tourists do not
usually go. Tragically, this makes the pain of poverty and violence
too easily ignored by those who could do something about it. Yet video
and the Web have the power to break down the emotional walls that
separate communities from one another, even when they transmit a
misleading message.

For example, those who are moved by video to judge Chicago's
liveability are no more ridiculous than Rush Limbaugh's recent rant
after Matt Drudge's Drudge Report Web site posted another video of
youth violence: a school bus security camera in downstate Illinois
captured a black kid pounding on a white kid in the next seat.

Police reported, but then discounted the possibility, that the
incident was a hate crime. But Limbaugh was not deterred by a mere
lack of evidence. "Greetings, my friends. It's Obama's America, is it
not?" he bellowed. "Obama's America -- white kids getting beat up on
school buses now. I mean, you put your kids on a school bus, you
expect safety, but in Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up
with the black kids cheering, 'Yeah, right on, right on, right on!'

Note to Rush: Most black youths have not exclaimed "right on" since
the days when you and I were young.

The truth is that race has little to do with youth violence compared
to the impact of poverty and the disconnection from hope.

There is good news happening in some violence-plagued neighborhoods,
even if it occurs too quietly to get as much media attention as the
violence does.

A variety of neighborhood-based programs have shown real success in
reducing youth violence. One leading example is the "violence-free
zones" that police and school officials in Milwaukee, Baltimore,
Atlanta, Dallas and Richmond, Va., have organized with assistance from
the Washington-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

"The Chicago tragedy is part of a plague sweeping the country," said
Robert Woodson, the center's founder and president. "Kids are targeted
not for being in a gang but for coming from a different

The key to a "violence-free zone," as Woodson explains it, is adult
"youth advisers" who have enough local connections and street savvy to
win the trust of teens, yet who also can pass rigorous background
checks. Effective "advisers" build enough trust to serve as
"antibodies" in a toxic atmosphere, so kids will alert them to looming
troubles without fear of being stigmatized as a "snitch."

In other words, before we waste our breath spouting off about what our
kids need, it pays to listen to the kids.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake