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.
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.
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.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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