Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2012
The number of Chicago Public Schools students killed in gun violence this past school year dipped slightly from the previous year, but the total number of students who were shot was up sharply, according to figures from Chicago police.
Twenty-four students were fatally shot during the school year that ended June 15, four fewer than in the 2010-11 year. But the overall shooting toll — 319 — was the highest in four years and a nearly 22 percent increase from the previous school year.
The rise in shootings of CPS students compounds concerns over an alarming increase in the city’s homicide rate. Through June 17, homicides are up about 38 percent citywide this year compared with the same period in 2011, while shootings are up 12 percent.
The national spotlight on the beating death of Derrion Albert in 2009 brought a heightened focus on combating youth violence under former schools chief Ron Huberman. He added mentoring and advocacy programs for at-risk students, launched intensive “Culture of Calm” programs at 38 troubled high schools, provided community patrols at schools and enlisted faith leaders to open churches after school and during the summer to keep kids off the street.
Now, with the district facing a second year of deficits hovering around $700 million, major funding cuts have been made to initiatives designed to help the most troubled children, according to social service agencies that work with at-risk CPS students.
Advocates of anti-violence programs agree that this school year’s spike may not directly correlate with cuts to mentoring and summer programs. But some worry that the district’s program reductions and change in philosophy may make a bad problem worse during the typically violent summer months.
Among the 24 students killed this past school year was 12-year-old Niazi “Ryan” Banks, a seventh-grade student who was caught in a volley of bullets exploding through his South Chicago neighborhood as he walked home on a warm May night.
Ryan’s aunt, Brigette Banks, sat on the family’s porch in the 8000 block of South Brandon Avenue recently, looking at the memorial of stuffed animals left at the bottom of the stairs where he fell. Police said the Sullivan Elementary student was killed at 10 p.m. May 19. They are still investigating the shooting and say Ryan was not the intended victim.
As she tries to come to grips with his death, Banks wonders whether her nephew would be alive today if her brother had not let him out after curfew. She wonders whether a neighborhood afraid to identify a perpetrator allows this sort of violence to continue. And she wonders about police enforcement in a community where gangs run rampant.