Chicago Youth Mentors Tackle School Violence

Community leaders are working hard to avoid another bloody summer for the city's youngest and most vulnerable residents.

By Thoai Lu Mar 28, 2011

Community leaders and police officials in Chicago are working overtime to prevent youth violence, which has made national headlines in recent years. While the brutal beating of 16-year-old Derrion Albert provoked outrage across the country, solutions to the violence may be more homegrown.

Chicago Public Schools are now in the second year of a two-year anti-violence initiative in high schools, and it’s funded with almost $50 million in federal stimulus funds, reports NPR. One initiative, called "safe passage," works with the police, the Chicago Transit Authority, and local community groups to ensure the safety of students to and from school through various gang-infested neighborhoods. 

The school system is also spending close to $20 million on mentors to intervene in the lives of a few hundred kids who are predicted to have more than a 10 percent chance of being shot.

Last year, 70 children between the ages of 5 and 18 were murdered in Chicago. All but four were killed by gunshots and nearly half of the deaths were gang-related. In total, nearly 700 children were wounded by gunfire last year.

Despite these overwhelming figures, the reality is most of the violence is concentrated in particular neighborhoods. Chicago’s former superintendent of police, Jody Weis, revealed findings from an analysis in 2009. NPR recounted the findings:

8.5 percent of the city contained all of the shootings and all of the homicides. That’s not bad. Unfortunately, if you happen to live in that 8.5 percent of the real estate of Chicago, life is a very, very different world than that other nearly 90 percent of the city.

"My whole thing is, I want them to be accountable," said Albert Stinson, a mentor who grew up in one of the cit’s tougher neighborhoods. "And that’s the biggest thing I’m working with, like I say with all my boys, it’s finding a way where they can start taking control of their life right now — today."

But other advocates have different concerns. Deborah Gorman Smith of the Center for Youth Violence Prevention at the University of Illinois Chicago commented on the excessive talk of helping kids already in trouble.  "Very little discussion has been about, how do we stop kids from getting there in the first place?" Smith told NPR. "And almost none of the programs and policies have focused on that."

The city’s new mayor elect Rahm Emanuel has promised to hire a thousand new police officers as part of his crime prevention policy. So clearly it’s a debate that’ll likely continue on into the summer, and beyond. Read more over at NPR.