Ransom Notes: Safety is everyone’s issue

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The question was forthright and serious. It came from the mother of a 15- year-old boy, who asked, “What do I have to do to keep my son safe? Should I buy him a gun, or some Mace?” Since both are illegal in Chicago, I suggested she refrain fro

I was reading the same news reports she was reading, where children as young as her own were being killed and assaulted on the streets. Some of them were being jumped on because they were from the wrong neighborhood, or from the wrong school, or because they had on the wrong colors, or the wrong look, or the wrong clothing.

I have asked myself the same question. I have asked how do I keep my 15-year-old daughter safe. According to the Chicago Public Schools, the safest place for my daughter is in the school.

According to the district, those hours spent in the schools are the safest hours most of the students spend. I would be more likely to believe that if I wasn’t hearing reports of violence in schools on a regular basis.

I would be more likely to believe that if Ruben Ivy had been killed several blocks away from Crane high school, several hours removed from school hours. Instead, Ivy, 18, was killed close to school, right after school let out.

Another classmate was beaten into bad health with a golf club on the steps of the school that same afternoon. CPS officials point out that the incidents didn’t happen in the school, so they weren’t school incidents. That is a load of crap.

If the threats that were reported against Ivy were made during school hours, in the halls of the school, it is a school problem. When five girls tell another girl that after school they are going to beat her butt, then it is a school problem, not a neighborhood problem.

In most cases, the slights, and insults and affronts that lead to the violence out of school, occur IN school. Yes, it is a school problem. That is not to say that it is not also a neighborhood problem, but, with the proliferation of magnet schools and charter schools, the neighborhood school is becoming a thing of the past. For most of these kids, the only place they see their classmates is in school.

The only time they can act out their dislike is in school, or immediately thereafter. The school has become the neighborhood. When my daughter tells me that she is afraid to go to school because of the violence that has taken place there; when she tells me of out-of-control fights up and down the hallways and students from neighboring high schools congregating near her school for altercations, it is a school problem, not a neighborhood problem.

She doesn’t live in that neighborhood and carries none of the neighborhood baggage because she just moved here from Pittsburgh. When Ruben Ivy’s classmates return to school after spring break, and look at the empty desk in their classrooms, it is a school problem.

When my daughter recalls that the body of one of her classmates was found in a dumpster on the South Side, it becomes a school problem. I don’t know how a young person is supposed to react to the violent death of a classmate, but I know it has to affect them and it affects the school. No, it is not just a school problem.

Too many of our neighborhoods are not safe, with gang and drug violence taking too much of a toll. School CEO Arne Duncan told the Defender how distraught he was when a young man spoke up at the peace rally at Revere elementary school and said his goal was to be able to walk to the corner store.

That shouldn’t be a goal. Making it safely to the corner store should be the least of his worries. Of course, the solution begins at home, but, when students are afraid to go to school, when parents are at their wit’s end about protecting their children, it is not those homes that are part of the problem. I don’t know what to tell that mother.

I’d tell her to tell her son to run away, but you cannot outrun bullets. I’d tell her to teach her son to talk his way out of trouble, but that only works if the people bringing the trouble want to listen. I don’t know how to keep our kids safe, and I know the schools don’t know either.

I do know that if we can’t keep our kids safe, we have compromised our future. Every day we go without an answer, we lose a child.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. á

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