Skip

This Chicago Life
February 22, 2013 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Last school year in Chicago, 29 current and recent students of Harper High School in the Englewood neighborhood were shot. Of those, 8 students died. For one semester (five months) reporters from the NPR show This American Life interviewed students and staff at Harper. The reporters wanted to know: How do students live with the violence surrounding them? How does the school staff deal with the effects of violence on students? The resulting two episodes of the show answer these questions (and more) in heartbreaking and surprising ways. Part one here. Part two here.
posted by Misty_Knightmare (30 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I listened to the first part earlier in the week. I had to take a break when the Social Worker lady broke down. The sense of inevitability of violence that everyone is living through is crushing.
posted by Drumhellz at 9:51 PM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


...or as I've taken to calling it, The Wire, Season Six.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:12 PM on February 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


People should be marching in droves out on the street over the fact that this sort of avoidable tragedy is on the verge of becoming mundane. Kids should be wondering about their future, not whether or not they will ever have one.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:13 PM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Quibble: TAL's not an NPR show; it's a PRI show.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haven't listened to part two yet, but part one was really something. I was listening to it and fond myself thinking that the environment these kids describe living in sounds much closer to going to school in the middle of a war-zone than in a peaceful country. Like, the kids are afraid to walk on the side-walks, lest they be attacked. What about that is different from going to school in a country filled with land-mines, or warring insurgencies?
posted by gkhan at 10:47 PM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


...or as I've taken to calling it, The Wire, Season Six.
Baltimore ain't got nothin' on Chicago, sadly.
posted by deathpanels at 10:58 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Englewood, always up to no good.
posted by o0o0o at 11:14 PM on February 22, 2013


gkhan: What about that is different from going to school in a country filled with land-mines, or warring insurgencies?

I think a key element is that it's not an external threat. A lot of the gang members that are causing the violence are the kids, or people the kids directly associate with. So it's a lot more complex than it would be with an insurgency you could send the military in to fight, or land mines you could de-mine. If you sent in a strong police force to wipe out the gangs with violence, not only would you do more damage to the kids than the gang violence itself does now, but new gangs would arise afterwards anyway. The root causes of the societal deterioration must be addressed, which isn't straightforward and isn't something our country does very well (to be fair, most others don't either).
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:32 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The root causes of the societal deterioration must be addressed, which isn't straightforward and isn't something our country does very well (to be fair, most others don't either).

This is something we used to use government for -- a centralized mechanism for applying pressure to problems for some cross-section of broader society. Increasingly I think that (right wing) political discourse has tried to frame the discussion of the role of government in terms of somehow using the free market (or if you prefer, not-government) as the salvation of every problem, but I find myself grasping for even the sketchy outlines of what a free market solution to this would look like. On the other hand, I don't know what governmental intervention solves this kind of gang violence (especially when the gang members are children) short of sending in the national guard a la Little Rock. I know you suggested that sending in the military isn't an option... I'm not wholly convinced, though I'm not advocating for that either. I just don't see anyone doing anything concrete to solve the root causes either. Distressing to say the least.
posted by axiom at 1:47 AM on February 23, 2013


I haven't made it to part two yet, thanks for posting this. I made it through part one on the train this week, shaking my head in amazement.

What amazed me were the rules:

  • Look at a map. Whether or not you want to be in a gang, you're in one.

  • Never walk by yourself. Instead walk with people, maybe 15 feet apart.

  • Never walk with someone else.

  • Don't use the sidewalk. Instead, walk down the middle of the street.

  • If they shoot, don't run.

  • You can be shot for reasons big and small.

  • Never go outside.


  • That's what it takes, not to play along in Harper, but to merely increase your chances of making it through the day alive.

    Season six of the Wire, indeed.
    posted by nevercalm at 5:02 AM on February 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


    Man, I got as far as the moment of silence before tearing up.

    I only finished part one so far, but I'm happy with the group that they have reporting on this, all people who are pretty familiar with the area before this. Alex Kotlowitz also wrote There Are No Children Here, which was about growing up in the projects on the near west side of Chicago in the 1980's.

    In the prologue, the fact that the Principal only has a moment of silence for the current students is pretty telling. Almost every statistic I hear about children getting shot in Chicago talks about schoolchildren getting shot in Chicago, with the assumption that anyone who drops out of school in these neighborhoods so deep into gangs that they no longer count.

    I don't want to call this season six of The Wire because, as much as I love The Wire and as much as informative as The Wire is about real issues, the Wire is fiction, and ultimately entertainment. Sure, a large number of characters in the Wire were based on real people, but these are real people: the kids saying these things are not actors. This should not be entertainment.

    Chicago is a horrible tale about how fighting gangs only works if you try to fix the systemic poverty that's causing the violence in the first place. This is happening because the CPD were too good at their job.
    posted by dinty_moore at 5:58 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


    This was a driveway moment. I was on my way home from work earlier this week and I ended up sitting in the car until the segment finished. I was captivated/horrified.
    posted by Fizz at 6:45 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I was listening to 'Talk of the Nation' discussing who the frontrunner was to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. (likely Robyn Kelly in the primary next week) and Don Rose mentioned what Rahm Emmanuel was doing about the homicide rate in Chicago - NOT ENOUGH!
    RUDIN: And what do you make of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's tenure so far with the gun violence and the gun deaths in Chicago, perhaps, coming close to record-breaking numbers? Does Rahm Emanuel - is he held responsible, or should he be doing something differently?

    ROSE: I have a perspective on that issue that is not necessarily adhered to by many. I think the police deployment issue and the failure to put more police on the street and the failure to give community policing training is largely responsible here. And they would claim it's an economic issue and they're doing a lot of juggling, moving people from - moving sworn personnel from administrative-type jobs out on the street. But they're still doing this without the proper training in community policing.

    And I think this has been one of Emanuel's great failures. And police Superintendent McCarthy, who I think - I'm still hopeful about, may get onto this. If not, we're going to see the rise, although, far from record levels. We're still at only about 50 or 60 percent of where the numbers where in the '90s. It's just this startling rise over the last two or three years that makes it look historically bad.
    posted by vonstadler at 6:51 AM on February 23, 2013


    Okay, setting a bad precedent ect ect be damned, I just donated what I could to the Harper High School donation page. I couldn't not do that after listening to the section on budget cuts.
    posted by dinty_moore at 7:23 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


    I think the police deployment issue and the failure to put more police on the street and the failure to give community policing training is largely responsible here.

    I'm not a huge fan of Emmanuel, but I really don't think flooding Englewood with police is a long term solution to gang violence, especially this sort of gang violence. What are they going to do, arrest anyone who has some sort of gang affiliation? At some point, you're just criminalizing living in the community.
    posted by dinty_moore at 7:28 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Chicago is a horrible tale about how fighting gangs only works if you try to fix the systemic poverty that's causing the violence in the first place. This is happening because the CPD were too good at their job.

    I've only been in Chicago for about 6 months but I already wouldn't say the CPD isn't good at anything. I've lived under about 10 different police forces in 3 different countries and I would rate the CPD as last place. Even in my super safe neighbourhood I routinely see the police casually breaking the law in all those little ways that let you know they feel they are untouchable. The City of Chicago currently has a fund put aside for settling past police misconduct cases that is around $50 Million and will run out well before the backlog is cleared. A large number of the cases involve police torture.

    The murder case clearance rate in Chicago hovers in the teens. Yet miraculously they manage to clear cases that draw national media attention so now it seems as if they play the Six degrees of Kevin Bacon game except with Obama in Bacon's place so that people will care. Last summer there was a big panic with the police chief having to hold press conferences not because of the hundreds of murders or tens of thousands of shootings but because ONE had happened on the magnificent mile. GASP!

    This is weird city to live in. It is simultaneously charmingly kind and wonderful and casually vicious. I am not sure how long term residents manage to live with the dissonance.
    posted by srboisvert at 7:30 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


    The 'too good at their job' line was referring to the fact that over the past decade, the Chicago gang structure has deteriorated due to most of the gang leaders (and others in the highest tiers) being put into jail. Which is one of the major factors in the huge spike in violence (another metafilter post that talks about this more in depth).
    posted by dinty_moore at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Serious question: how do we know when TAL is reporting on facts, rather than making stuff up? It has bothered me ever since they admitted that some segments are fictionalized.
    posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2013


    KokuRyu, these episodes are very clearly positioned as reporting true facts. So was Mike Daisey's stuff, hence all the handwringing when we learned he was full of it. Personal tales by Sedaris or Birbiglia seem pretty obviously different. Am I missing something about why it's hard to tell journalism from storytelling?
    posted by Xalf at 8:40 AM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


    TAL also now spends several thousand dollars per episode on freelance factcheckers. Ira Glass recently discussed it on On The Media.
    posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:53 AM on February 23, 2013


    The ending of Part 2 of this, where a series of principals give the statistics for gun deaths at their schools, was one of the most powerful pieces of radio I've heard in a long time. Brutal, chilling, and a much-needed wake-up call.
    posted by RokkitNite at 9:40 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


    TAL also now spends several thousand dollars per episode on freelance factcheckers.

    Cool. I hadn't known that, and, excluding the Mike Daisey stuff, I hadn't realized until following the Mike Daisey piece that some of TAL is a mixture of fact and fiction.

    Am I missing something about why it's hard to tell journalism from storytelling?

    I think you don't know how to determine when a question is asked in good faith, or how to respond in a non-fighty way.
    posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 AM on February 23, 2013


    Oh my. Looking back at the way I phrased that, I absolutely see why my question reads as fighty. In my head I meant to honestly ask if I was missing something, but that's not at all what I wrote. I apologize.
    posted by Xalf at 9:52 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Halfway through part two. Don't know if it's the pregnancy hormones or what, but I just want to grab all these kids and put them somewhere safe. I know that's the wrong answer, but I just want to be able to do something for them. The biggest thing I had to worry about in high school was getting into fights with the popular girls. I would never have expected one of them to shoot me.

    I can't imagine living under that sort of pressure, day in, day out. Like living in a warzone. It kills me to know that anyone grows up this way, in any country, in any time.
    posted by offalark at 10:13 AM on February 23, 2013


    I grew up in this neighborhood in the 90's so I wasn't expecting to learn anything new. But these stories got to me. Things have become much, much worse than they were in my day. I would say the 90s was more like the Wild, Wild West--Most of the violence involved grown men fighting over resources but there seemed to some rules. I would say now it's more like Lord of the Flies with teenagers with guns trying to make meaning out of the hand they have been dealt.

    The "never go outside" thing is one thing that has remained the same. My sister and I were never allowed to be outside after dark, unless it was some kind of family outing. No birthday parties at other kids' houses. No sleepovers. We couldn't even hang out on the front porch after sunset. (Even people in the neighborhood thought my mom went a little overboard.) We spent so many hours reading or watching TV. So many hours just bored and listless. One of the first things I realized when I went to college was that since I lived in a small college town, I could go outside whenever I wanted to. For a long time it was an odd feeling to walk across the quad and feel the night air and look up at the stars. Being out at night still gives me an illicit thrill. Being out during the day just to be outside is still kinda weird if you are used to being out of the house only when you have to.
    posted by Misty_Knightmare at 12:23 PM on February 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


    I haven't finished the second episode yet, and I only watched three seasons of The Wire, but so far, I find this very different from The Wire. What impressed me about this reporting was its effort to avoid stereotypes (or what have come to be tropes following the original freshness of The Wire and some other work by its writers, like Clockers).

    To me, the Wire is about poverty, drug sales, (some people's) greed and violent tendencies, and incompetent and corrupt bureaucracies. But in this story, the school building is not in disrepair but bright and clean; the school administration is functional and responsive; the staff are competent, involved, and caring; the kids don't fight over drug turf nor intentionally join gangs. This story's themes seemed more to be innocence, inevitability, inherited and intergenerational violence, trauma, and the difficulty of intervening. Just my two cents. Thanks for the post.
    posted by salvia at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


    These are heart-rending and really well done.

    Also, anyone who hasn't seen it yet should really watch The Interrupters, which I believe is watchable for free here (may only be free in the US).
    posted by sparkletone at 3:06 PM on February 23, 2013


    Nice! Thanks, sparkletone. I'd been trying to rent The Interrupters after hearing about it on Fresh Air but hadn't found a way to do so.
    posted by salvia at 3:20 PM on February 23, 2013




    Serious question: how do we know when TAL is reporting on facts, rather than making stuff up? It has bothered me ever since they admitted that some segments are fictionalized.

    When they air fiction or fictionalised stuff, it's clearly announced as such.

    They're generally very careful about it. The Mike Daisy stuff was a problem, because Daisy lied about it to TAL - it was partially fictionalised, but he claimed it was solid journalism. TAL went out of their way later to clear it up - they apologised, fact checked and pointed out the discrepancies, and beat the crap out of Daisy on air.
    posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:39 PM on February 24, 2013


    « Older Pretty Colors   |   The betting machine Newer »


    This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



    Post