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Five Months at Harper High School in Chicago—With 29 Kids Shot at & 8 Dead

February 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA is taking Monday off. We’ll be back to our regular reporting tomorrow.

In the meantime, we want to strongly recommend to you a completely extraordinary 2-part story produced by the public radio show, This American Life.

This 2-part series takes a look at the violence affecting Harper High School in Chicago where, during the last school year, 29 current and recent Harper students were shot. Twenty-one of those kids were wounded. Eight of them eight died.

“Watching this,” said the program’s host, Ira Glass, “it’s hard not to think that if you grafted these facts on to another high school, in a wealthier place, maybe a suburb…In other places that would be national news, right? We would all know the name of that school.”

But most of us have never heard of Harper.. Nor do we hear much about a similar kind of everyday violence that goes on in certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles. When we do hear about a shooting, it’s often labeled “gang-related,” the unstated implication being that the victim must have somehow deserved it, that what goes around comes around—unless, of course, the victim is specifically designated “innocent.”

This story of Harper High School drills down past those careless assumptions.

“For everything we’ve all heard about children and gun violence,” says Glass, “there are basic things we don’t hear so much about. Like what it’s like to live in neighborhoods that have to cope with so much bloodshed. This is a school that knows this problem in a way that most of us around the country don’t.”

The administrators at Harper (who seem, by the way, like unusually caring and level-headed educators) gave TAL’s three reporters remarkable access for a full semester, five months. When violence struck—as it does with some regularity—the reporters recorded the staff as they jumped into action. They recorded private and painfully difficult meetings with families and students.

The result is one of the most affecting and accurate pieces of journalism I’ve run across in a very long time.

I’ll have more to say after Part 2. But for now, just listen.

Back tomorrow with our regularly scheduled programming.

Posted in Education, Gangs, guns, juvenile justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention, Youth at Risk | 9 Comments »

9 Responses

  1. leftattheball Says:

    I beleive we should as a nation use the same system we use in California for gun control. But this bandwagon approach is crazy. Chicago has stringent gun control, but they still kill each other. They blame a lack of gun control on other communities that make it easier for the purchase of weapons. Here is a hint, it is not the guns killing your population, it is your population.
    Chicago is a corrupt city run by corrupt people, that has spread into the entire community. What Chicago, and other cities need, is to educate their population, remove the blame game and look at ways to improve the economics of their cities.
    Blaming guns is just another way to say “I am not responsible.”
    Again I agree we need to do something, and what we have in California is a start, with an added clause on magazine capacity, with mental health checks. But even that won’t stop the violence, until we all get involved. Removing the weapons will not work.
    Examples: The War on drugs, the last amnesty program that was to be the last, are just two programs that come to mind.

  2. John Moore Says:

    I guess everything would be okay if they were just stabbing and raping each other.

    Calling violence with guns “gun violence” is pejorative. It implies the guns are the problem, but the fact that much of America has high schools where no kids are killed by guns, even though the laws there are much more lax, says otherwise.

  3. Celeste Fremon Says:

    EDITOR’S NOTE: I really, REALLY recommend y’all listen to the story—the primary focus of which isn’t guns at all; it’s about kids and trauma—and a lot more. Just listen. This isn’t some gun control tirade. It’s exceptionally fine journalism that illuminates the complexity of the issues facing kids who grow up in high violence neighborhoods, and the complexities facing the adults who are trying to provide those kids with an education while also helping them to stay alive.

  4. Leftattheball Says:

    The journalism is great, it does illuminate the trauma. But that trauma has been there and until a few months ago, no one really brought it forward. It seems as though since it is gun related, now its a story.
    I have spent YEARS dealing with gun violence, from gangs to domestic, to idiots on New Years Eve. I understand the trauma, I don’t live it, but I understand.
    Which is why I say we need to adopt California standards nationwide, due a magazine limit, and prevent those in diminished mental state from being able to buy weapons. But here is the thing, they have stricter gun control in Chicago, have for years. What are THEY doing about it?
    Personal accountability needs to be something that is standard. They have to change their ways to stop the violence. You spent years in gang areas, they don’t change until the people change and the local government helps those they govern.
    Chicago is a fish bowl right now, Obama’s home turf. So the light is on them, but make no mistake the reason it is in the light is not for the children, but to implement gun control.

  5. OhYouKnow Says:

    I see the NRA shills have arrived.

  6. Ken D Says:

    To leftatthe ball: Murder rate for California ~5.45 is very close to national average ~5.51. Not a very strong recommendation.
    to OhYouKnow: Takes a shill to know one, you just chose a different poison.

  7. Ken D Says:

    To Celeste: I did listen. Great job! We need more journalism in this style.

  8. s Says:

    wow!! great story.. making it about gun control shuts down the basic story geing told. its about the councelors that still care. kids that need support n resources. this is what journalism should b about. telling of stories that wouldnt b heard otherwise.

  9. Celeste Fremon Says:

    S. You’re so right. And again, this story is NOT about gun control. Although it was broadcast in february, it was researched in reported for five months in the fall of 2012—weill before Newtown. It’s as S. said about the larger issue of having enough counselors for schools so they’re able to take the time to connect with kids, and about the difficulties kids in violence-prone neighborhoods face, week in and week out.

    Los Angeles, thankfully, has had a dropping homicide rate for nearly a decade. But it still has a shocking percentage of kids in its poorer communities suffering from equal or higher levels of Post Traumatic Stress than service people returning from Afghanistan.


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