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October 7th, 2009
07:28 PM ET

Is Chicago another Katrina?

Program Note: Anderson is reporting live from Chicago tonight. More on what's being done to curb the violence. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks during a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks during a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday.

Mishan Afsari
AC360°

I watch AC360° report on youth violence in Chicago, and it’s the most thought provoking national news for me since Hurricane Katrina. In fact, I see strong parallels between the two stories. And the question I’m always left with is: how can they be helped?

In late August 2005 when I heard a hurricane was threatening to hit hard in the gulf coast, I admit, I thought – it’s a hurricane – it happens, but it wasn’t going to affect me. I imagine many of us thought the same. But only days later, the whole country was wondering when the help would arrive to the people suffering from that devastating natural disaster.

Now it’s Chicago. It’s not natural, but it’s a disaster by most standards. So far this year, 57 kids aged 18 and under were victims of homicide in Chicago, according to the Chicago Police Department. Last year, 100 kids were killed.

Derrion Albert, 16, was killed after getting caught in the middle of a street fight on September 24.

Derrion Albert, 16, was killed after getting caught in the middle of a street fight on September 24.

And of course it’s not just kids being murdered. Second only to New York, last year Chicago had 510 homicides, according to FBI’s 2008 crime report. (New York had 523, but it also has nearly three times the population.)

It’s possible some people hear these numbers and think, I don’t live there, why does this matter to me?

But last week, when the nation saw video of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert beaten to death near his school, the anger of viewers was more than palpable.

To me, it felt the same as watching people on rooftops in New Orleans yelling with signs “help me.” It was the moment when, no matter where you were, you had to care, you had to wonder how many students have to die in Chicago before they get rescued?

I remember with vivid clarity how Anderson Cooper questioned Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana as he reported from the Katrina disaster zone.

As she began praising Congress for their efforts to respond to the emergency, Anderson interrupted.

“For the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.”

Tonight, Anderson goes to the disaster zone again, asking for answers to really tough questions – on the kind of suffering that affects some people so much while the rest of us watch in bewilderment. This time it’s Chicago, and it’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan he’s grilling.

Already today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at a press conference in Chicago, as he and Secretary Duncan visited the school of slain Derrion Albert. Some could argue that figurative “help me” signs have long been on display, but Holder said it was that video of the beating that finally brought him to Chicago.

“For me, and for this administration, it was a call to action, to address a challenge that affects this entire nation.”

But does this count as calling in the guards? Are Holder and Duncan here to the rescue – are they the real response to this crisis that Chicago needs?

What will really save Chicago from this very unnatural disaster? Can government really help? Or will it be like Katrina, where everyday heroes came to the rescue, and continue to do so?

Chicago may need its heroes now, because this is no quick and easy rescue.


Filed under: Chicago Killings • Hurricane Katrina
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Tim Gibson

    The problem in Chicago and in other urban areas is a parental problem, a lack of teaching children responsibility and respect and the action by our leadership moves away from responsibility to pointing the finger of blame at everthing but those who are responsible.

    It does take a village to raise a child and the village itself has a problem that has nothing to do with government or police.

    Katrina, was in fact a natural disaster not a made made disaster even though the failure of levee's resulted in the massive amount of water pouring into the city and it was the Mayor of New Orleans, a man of color himself, who failed to remove the citizens from harms way when they had no means of escape.

    It is time to accept responsibility instead of blaming society for the failures of individuals on a personal level.

    October 7, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  2. Larry

    What’s so special about violence in Chicago; is it because its the adopted home of the President?

    October 7, 2009 at 9:27 pm |
  3. scott

    I work as an educator in Chicago and really believe that we have to condense our schools to keep a better tab on the lives that students live every day in and out of school. At our school, we are small and do a great job of constant communication on anything with the parent/guardian that involves our students. The size of school, communication with parent/guardian and activities in what keeps us going. We keep our kids involved in afterschool activities year round. The police are undermanned as they have told me before and they need more. If we don't get more, then bring in the National Guard. The police can't be everywhere at every time, it's just impossible. But, we as educators, have to get every students involved in some type of activity after school and communicate constantly with the parent/guardian, along with more police presence. Mayor Dailey has to get them a new contract and I want to hear what the plan will be by Arne Duncan, not just saying that we have to get better. We all know that already!

    October 7, 2009 at 8:56 pm |
  4. Zack Isaacs

    One of my iReports was featured on Don Lemon's first installment of "Chicago's Deadly Streets" in August. So, this issue is close to my heart.

    But Chicago is like Katrina only because the epidemic worsened in the past 2 years and hasn't relented. To be honest, violence in Chicago stems back to the race riots of 1919, 1967, and the crack epidemic that began in the 1980s and is now the "heroin" epidemic- according to law enforcement insiders.

    All we can do is DO, instead of keep talking. Talking doesn't save lives. Everyone must be quiet until we make noise with our actions.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm |
  5. jenny

    No Chicago is not another Katrina. Its not because although Katrina ripped the rose colored glasses off of NOLA Katrina was a natural disaster. It caused people who were otherwise basically ok to act out of control becuase their survivor instincts to kick in. It was a series of let downs caused by a failed system that caused people to create a horrible situation.
    However the situation in Chicago has been created by people that refuse to deal with their situation. Chicago has possibilites and opportunities but they refuse to take them. Some people don't get opportunities and thats fine but pretending that there are no problems is their fault. Running away from the police and not "snitching" on each other is their fault. Not the fault of cataclysmic storm.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:43 pm |
  6. dave

    I work for as an adminstrator at a school in Chicago and talk to the police regularly and they say that they are undermanned and have been for years. We have great and constant communication with our parents on every issue, even the slighest inkling of danger. We have no problems with any of this and think that many of these schools need to be condensed or go to the "Charter School" system to keep a better tab on our students and get them involved in after school activities. What's Arne Duncan going to do? I did hear him talk about any plan in action.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm |
  7. Rick

    Katrina was an act of nature. Chicago is an act of negligence helped by the crooked politicians who have ignored the problem while feathering their own nests.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  8. Gina

    The problem isn't the education system. Although I agree that it is a broken system, but the violence that happened here in Chicago is not a product of the collapsing education system. The problem is there are not enough people caring about what happens to our children. MILLIONS of people watched the video. Bloggers wrote about it, reporters did stories and chat rooms and twitter were rampant with comments. Many celebrities even put there two cents in. But NO one has stood up and said, "How can I help?" There needs to be more involvement from our communities. There needs to be a movement by our leaders as grand and on the same magnitude as the civil rights movement. People need to care enough to be a part of the solution. It's one thing to talk about what needs to be done and actually doing it.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  9. JC-Los Angeles

    Chicago, like most places in today's America, is simply a place where the connected few line their pockets, help themselves, advance their personal agendas and leave all others to fend for themselves.

    Only when tragedy occurs, do the connected few feign interest, pose for photo ops and appear to take action.

    While Barack Obama was making connections, patting backs and dispensing countless words, the city he claimed to be organizing was falling apart.

    Our nation deserves leadership that can actually enact change rather than leadership that simply speaks to it.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:20 pm |
  10. Norm

    For Heaven's sake! Everyone knows what causes the problems but very few will speak about it openly. And when they do they get derided. Remember how Bill Cosby was denigrated when he pointed out a few obvious facts.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:14 pm |
  11. Lisa Chicago Ill,

    I have lived here in Chicago for 42 years, and I thought that I had seen it all. I am ashamed to even call Chicago my home. I can not believe that people didn't do anything, to help that poor teenage boy that got beaten to death by a mob of kids and to just do nothing about it makes me sick that i even live there.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:08 pm |
  12. Cheryl

    Sure it is. Seems to me that whenever any species is in distress a large number of 'em are often violent or act out in unusual ways, including humans. AMERICA, as harsh as this is going to sound, Look deeper than the violence & desperation, real solutions will become crystal clear... How many taps on the shoulder do we need my people... Pro-action not Anti-action.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  13. Chris

    Katrina was far from a natural disaster. The storm itself was natural, but the factors that lead to the deaths of thousands was not. Poor levees, incompetent government on all levels, mismanagement–these were man made.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  14. bill brady

    where are the parents and gaurdians here? I drive and pick my daughter up from school and shes not walking the streets and wondering around and as far as i can tell so far has not killed anyone or brought home a gun. Where is the personal responsibility and where are the police in arresting and policing these neighborhoods? all the kids are killed in x amount of blocks. maybe we need to get the cops out of the loop giving people tickets for missing a license plate that was just stolen off their car like mine and go be policemen instead of meter maids and traffic cops. the system needs to not take the blame as much as the parents and adults and police in these neighborhoods. its a shame and disgusting.

    October 7, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
  15. Annie Kate

    I am surprised that Chicago has not increased the number of police on the streets especially in the neighborhoods where the murders happen. A large increase of police constantly patrolling the streets might cut back on some of the murders. This would help but it isn't a total answer to the problem; I don't know that anyone yet knows what is a good answer – it may take many different steps to get to where this problem is no longer a problem but someone at first needs to identify what the root cause of the murders is so solutions can be tailored to fix that root cause or eliminate it. I hope that the people looking at Chicago and at trying to help Chicago can identify that quickly – too many children have died already.

    October 7, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  16. Dee

    Katrina was a natural disaster. Children killing each other is not a natural disaster its a man made disaster !!!

    October 7, 2009 at 7:36 pm |