Overwhelming Violence in High School
The beating death of 16 year-old Derrion Albert, the Chicago honors student, has become national news. I saw it on the front page of the newspaper as I was walking into a baptism and felt sick to my stomach. As I was watching a friend’s son go through this early life ritual, my son peacefully slept in the car with my husband. While both of these little boys have wide open lives before them, somewhere a mother was grieving for her boy. Even worse, she was grieving over a pointless and violent end to his far-too-short life. The violence is shocking, but unfortunately the loss of young lives is all too common of a story.
Within a week another bout of high school violence hit Chicago, but didn’t make national headlines. A boy’s skull was broken in a beating as he walked home from school, he’s now in intensive care. The police chalk it up to more gang violence. I live maybe 15 miles from this neighborhood. According to reports in the Chicago Tribune, a woman was planting flowers in front of her home when she heard screaming and saw the boys running down the street. By the time she called 911 the boy was laying in the street in blood, beaten with a pipe. He’s only 14 years old, a freshman in high school.
It’s easy to blame gangs for this violence, blame the “inner city schools” for not patrolling, the “system” for not caring, the police… Yes, all of these are important factors, but I think we really have to blame the parents. Blame parents, rich or poor, black or white, for not being around, for not setting examples, for leaving boys and girls in high school to take on a toughness that isn’t natural. We’ve seen it for years, grainy cell phone videos of lanky girls punching each other, boys in high school staging fights by the bike racks, kids bringing guns to school.
When I was in high school our junior vs. senior Powder Puff football game turned into a brawl due to one girl with some serious issues and a list of girls she didn’t like in her pocket. I was told I was on that list because I had a car, so she thought I was rich and didn’t like me. This girl brought chains, painted her face black, and came at me swinging. If it hadn’t been for a senior friend who stepped in I would have been seriously injured. Fights broke out left and right.
Here were hundreds of upper middle class white girls completely out of control. A pee wee soccer game at the next field was broken up. Our parents who had come to watch went running with their lawn chairs, we took off for our cars as eggs pelted us in the back of the head. According to legend, a car was even set on fire. We were “normal suburban girls.” That is still the most frightening feeling I have ever experienced.
One girl was the catalyst for the problem. One girl came full of rage, looking to prove she was tougher than the rest of us. Somehow her parents didn’t notice that her face was painted black or that she was wearing a sharp studded dog collar or that she packed chains and took what I imagine must have been a hand full of speed. I’m not trying to compare this girl to the gang members who killed Derrion Albert or put the other kid in the hospital, but if you break it all down, it had to be the same motivation, just coming from two vastly different places.
When my son was two and a half months old, I went to the local Starbuck’s to get some work done. Two boys, maybe 12 years old sat next to me. They were being loud and obnoxious. I started off looking at them with my best “I’m a disappointed adult” face.
This only encouraged them and they loudly started to talk about how difficult their lives were. One kid’s dad promised him a black i-phone, but bought him a white model instead. The other kid had to wait until Christmas for a new i-pod. These were obviously huge injustices to these boys. I tried all of the non-verbal ways to make them uncomfortable and let them know their behavior was not acceptable.
Then one of them said…. “I could kill everyone here.”
That I could not let slide. I asked them if they thought they were funny and what they thought the police would do when I called to report that two teenagers in Wilmette are threatening to kill everyone in the Starbuck’s next to the Jaguar dealership. “Do you think your parents would find that to be funny?” I asked
“My dad wouldn’t care. He’d be more mad that you’re bugging him when he’s working,” one said smugly.
I asked them to leave and they eventually did. I looked around this very small Starbucks. Behind me were two men and a woman reading, within ear shot of the entire exchange. I looked at them and wondered how they could just sit there and allow those boys to act like that, to talk back to me the way they did. The woman looked up and gave me a half-hearted smile. The men would not meet my gaze.
Are these the dads whose kids run loose at Starbuck’s on a beautiful fall Sunday? Where were their parents? And if their fathers were too busy working, why didn’t these guys step in to teach these boys a lesson?
Whether it’s because parents aren’t in their lives at all, are always at work, or choose to turn their head and look in the other direction, too many kids are boiling under the surface and finding extreme ways to act out. The overwhelming theme seems to be a lack of structure and responsibility being passed down from the parents. How are teenagers so unaware of the value of life? Where is their fear of consequences for their actions?
On every level, whether in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods or in its wealthiest, there are children who are angry and looking for a way to channel that frustration, who have learned along the way that life is not as important as their pride. As a community, we all need to come together and pass on these values. Parents must set their children’s moral compass in the right direction, because without it, they’re lost.
This is an original post to Chicago Moms Blog. Lisa H. can also be found blogging at Hannemaniacs.
Photo by Heather Kitchen.