While the stories of most Black teenagers who get killed are relegated to local news, the beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, which was recorded on a camera phone, has garnered national attention. The honor student, who died in Chicago last month after being inadvertently caught in a fight between gangs, even caught the attention of the White House.
President Obama has dispatched Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago on Wednesday, and Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday. According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, they will meet with community members and “talk about the issues of school violence and youth violence.” Just before the trips, ESSENCE.com talked to the Reverend Jesse Jackson about the government’s role in school safety and why he’s unsure if visits from the Obama administration officials will be useful.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you think about the President sending Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder to Chicago this week?
REV. JESSE JACKSON: We’re going to need a heavier intervention than that. Arne Duncan, former head of Chicago Public Schools, is very familiar with the territory. Last year, under his watch, 400 children were shot and 40 were killed. He also knows about the brand-new state-of-the-art Carver Military Academy that’s about one-fifth full. Bussed children walk past that school to catch the bus, which often involves three transfers, to another school that has conflict between the two communities. For many of them, that means that they don’t come to school because of fear, or they don’t learn at school because of fear.
ESSENCE.COM: What action can the government take to tackle this issue?
JACKSON: I spoke to Secretary Duncan last Thursday and told him that the children who walk past that new school, which is nearest to them, should be able to go there. But it’s not just children in crisis; there are parents in crisis. This is also an area where you have the most foreclosures because of subprime lending exploitation. It’s also an area with a high loss of jobs, so economic stability is in flux. They have the last access to health care. We need the urban czar to have a comprehensive plan of action to address what the President calls “structural inequality.”
ESSENCE.COM: In addition to a comprehensive approach, what can the government do to specifically address school violence and gangs?
JACKSON: For one, the government in Little Rock in 1957 intervened in the face of the threat of violence and provided safe passage to school.
ESSENCE.COM: So, you mean children in Chicago should be escorted to school by the National Guard, like in 1957 Little Rock?
JACKSON: I don’t know what intervention will be required. It may be along the corridors that people walk; it may be intervening into the forces that have the weaponry. The government must determine that. My point is that, by law there is an obligation to provide children safe passage to school, at school and from school, and no stone should go unturned to enforce the law. But we cannot be dismissive of the simultaneous force of poverty. We need to look at urban violence in its totality–not just salvage the students, as their parents’ homes are in foreclosure and they’re losing their jobs. We need to have a plan that is comprehensive.