President Obama has launched
a new national initiative against youth violence in the wake of the
brutal killing of Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old sophomore at Chicago's
Fenger Academy High. Derrion's fatal beating by several other
on video from an
onlooker's cell phone, has inundated the nightly news and the blogosphere
--prompting U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former chief
of the Chicago public schools, to visit Chicago this past Wednesday
to address the issue of youth violence.
But to many parents, students
and teachers in Chicago, Duncan's visit to Chicago represented the
perpetrator returning to scene of the crime.
That's because Duncan's
"Renaissance 2010" initiative that he helped launch beginning in
2005, ordered dozens of Chicago's public schools closed and thousands
of students reassigned to campuses outside their neighborhoods --and
often across gang lines.
The closure of these public
schools was a move by Duncan to bring in privatized charter schools
that take public funds and place them in schools outside of public oversight.
In numerous school board meetings and protests, community members have
warned Duncan that the reckless closing of schools would have dire consequences--from
the loss of cherished education programs and neighborhood schools, to
the increase in gang violence.
Before the 2006 school
year, an average of 10-15 public school students were fatally shot each
year. But as schools were shut down and public education was eroded,
deadly shootings soared; 24 in the 2006-07 school year, 23 in the 2007-08
school year, and last year ended with a record 34 deaths and 290 shootings.
"You have a trail of blood
and tears ever since they launched (Renaissance 2010)," said Tio
Hardiman, director of the anti-violence organization CeaseFire Illinois,
in story by MSNBC. "There's a history of violence associated with
moving kids from one area to another."
Investing in our public schools
and after-school programs (rather than siphoning off money from them
in the form of charter schools), and investing in job programs and universal
healthcare before investing in failed banks, could go a long way towards
alleviating the conditions of hopelessness that breed violence.
But even reprioritizing spending
on social services and education isn't enough to save America's
youth from violence.
Inauspiciously, the Obama administration
chose October 7th to issue its press release calling for
a "National conversation on values to address youth violence." October
7th marked the 8th anniversary of the War in Afghanistan--a
war that has enlisted tens of thousands of America's youth to carry
automatic weapons to a foreign land to participate in the unhinged brutality
of an occupation. As Obama considers whether to bow to the generals
and send an addition 40,000 troops to Afghanistan--a war widely becoming
known as "Obama's Vietnam"--already some 800 Americans and thousands
more Afghans have been killed in this conflict.
If Obama wants his national
conversation on youth violence to be more than platitudes and media
hype, he would do well to revisit these words delivered by fellow Nobel
Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famous "Beyond Vietnam"
We were taking
the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending
them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia
which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we
have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and
white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation
that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we
watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village,
but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago...
...I knew that
I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed
in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor
of violence in the world today: my own government.