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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yet Another Defining Moment

About a year ago, I served on the jury on the murder case of Michael Hodges. Hodges was killed when he was confronted by an individual that also lived in the same set of housing projects on the West Side of Chicago. It's been so long that I have to confess that I can't remember the name of the suspect. Two eye witnesses testified and each gave near exactly the same version of the crime. That was the center piece of the evidence against the defendant and the jury ultimately came back with a guilty verdict. The case was gruesome. Hodges was shot six times at close range and five of those shots were in the back as he tried to flee. It's also unfortunately all too familiar in the projects of Chicago. In fact, the case was so ordinary that I can't find one news article about it. I only know because I happened to sit on the jury.

We have, in Chicago, reached what some are calling a defining moment. The murder of Derrion Albert is just that moment. Albert was a 16 year old honor student walking home when he apparently got caught in the middle of two rival gangs brawling. He was beaten to death and that beating was captured on cell phone video and then broadcast on television. (H/T to Michelle Malkin)

There are several differences between the case of Michael Hodges and this one. First, Derrion was a good kid on the honor roll. Hodges was not. Second, there was no video of Hodges death the way there is of Derrion's. That said, the brutality and senselessness was the same in both cases. Yet, it is this one that is being referred to as a defining moment.

I hope so but I also doubt it. That's because we have been here before. Back in 1984, Ben Wilson was on his way home from his school, Simeon High School, when he bumped into a group of teenagers. The altercation lead to one teenager taking out a gun and shooting and killing Wilson. Wilson was a star basketball player on Simeon. He was headed to the University of Illinois where he would have played with the Flyin' Illini's 1988-1989 Final Four team. In fact, Simeon alum starting with Nick Anderson wear 25 when they play at the University of Illinois. (Wilson's high school number was 25) He is often considered by many that saw him play the greatest basketball player from Chicago, including Isaiah Thomas. The fury that surrounded his death was then also a "defining moment". More than two decades later, the violence in Chicago's South and Southwest Side is as intense as it was when it claimed Wilson's life.

In 2007, Starkeshia Reed was killed outside her home on the 6700 block of Honore when a stray bullet from yet another gang confrontation hit her in the head while she sat outside her home. Following her death, several vigils, community meetings, and rallies were held. For about a month, the media was engaged about how the community would change following her death. Her death was yet another "defining moment". Earlier this year, deaths in the Chicago Public Schools reached such a critical level that only family was allowed to come to after school sporting events. It was yet another defining moment. Yet, deaths followed all of these incidents and ultimately these defining moments turned into yet another moment. That's lead us to the death of Derrion Albert.

The gravity of the video may turn this defining moment into a real defining moment, but I am not so confident. Instead, the death of Wilson, Hodges, Derrion Albert, and Reed, is all part of a cycle of violence that afflicts Chicago's inner city, much like it does all inner cities. From time to time, there is a death that shocks the public so much that it is viewed as a "defining moment." Rarely, do any of these defining moments lead to substantial change. Instead, the cycle of poverty that leads to crime to gang activity which makes inner cities like in Chicago something akin to a war zone continue. From time to time, our sensibilities are so challenged that we all promise to make substantial change. We are here yet again. Let's hope this is a real defining moment, but I am not so confident.


Anonymous said...

All these "moments" define Chicago a toilet of gangs, lowlifes and scumbags.

They should put a wall up around the whole damned city.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Derrick Rose go to Simeon?

Also, that first statement is so cliche they should put up a wall around it.

mike volpe said...

Rose did go to Simeon. It has an excellent basketball tradition. He of course went to Memphis and not UofI or he would have worn 25 there.

Anonymous said...

So how do we break the cycle? What perpetuates it?

I attended a high school plagued by gang violence, surrounded by awful neighborhoods and I don't have an answer for you. But I'd love to hear people's thoughts.

highlander said...

Anon @3:03 -- That's the 64k question isn't it? What can we -- or anyone -- do about it?

Here's a link to a piece by Melanie Phillips over at the Spectator online which may shed some light:

Her post provides links to four articles by Harriet Sergeant who spent nine months interviewing violent young teenage boys at various locations throughout the U.K.

What she reports is very scary, but also suggests some ways to break the cycle at least in England. Perhaps similar steps could work in Chicago as well.