The beating has been called brutal, savage, and vicious. It has created a firestorm of controversy and criticism from the school system, to the city of Chicago, and even President Obama. The beating of sixteen year old honors student Derrion Albert, captured on a cell phone camera by a bystander has caught the attention of prominent figures around the United States. Albert was caught up in a brawl between dozens of students while walking to a bus stop after school. The fight was supposedly retaliation for a shooting that had happened at the school earlier that day. Albert was killed after being knocked unconscious by a strike from a board that one of the brawling teenagers was wielding, and then beaten to death by a group of five teenagers.
Derrion Albert’s death was without a doubt, tragic and brutal, but it is unfortunately not very uncommon in the city of Chicago. According to the police, 100 school age children were killed in Chicago last year. In the 2007-2008 school year, among high school students there were 34 deaths and 290 shootings. The Derrion Albert beating brings up the importance of an imperative overriding question in the fight against violence in Chicago and around the United States. Are African Americans truly more likely to be victims of violent crimes, and if they are what can be done about it?
The answer to the first question is clear to see when one looks at the information about causes of death for Americans in the year 2004. When compared to whites, the causes of death statistics for African Americans are both jaw dropping and depressing. For blacks between the ages of 15 and 34, homicide is the leading cause of death. It ranks no higher than third for white Americans in the same age group. For African Americans in Derrion Albert’s age group (15-19), the homicide rate for African Americans was six times higher than the homicide rate for white Americans. The rate for African Americans in the 20-24 year old age group was 55.9, compared to a 7.9 rate for white Americans.
Clearly, African Americans are much more likely to be victims of violence than white Americans. The answer to the problem has clearly eluded government and community officials because the issue continues to be a problem. It would be unfair to say that nothing has been done about the problem. The city of Chicago recently announced a $30 million project that identifies high risk youth that may become victims of gun violence and assigns them to full time mentors and part time jobs. Some of the $30 million also will pay for more security guards in gang troubled areas. However, the solution has to go deeper than simply a lack of funding or programs. According to the Washington Post, nearly 48 percent of African American children grow up without a father in the home. This is nearly double the rate of any other ethnic group. For a group of young men to think that it is okay to spend their time at school senselessly fighting each other there has to be lack of parental and community support that goes far beyond dollars and cents.
Derrion Albert’s tragic death is more than simply an isolated incident, it is another example of an all too familiar problem of violence in the African American community, and it is going to take more than money to solve it. It is going to take parents and community leaders stepping up and to taking control of their neighborhoods and households.