Friday, March 28, 2008

What's really going on? Gun violence so bad that police escort students to school!

The morning trip to school for dozens of teenagers here had all the normal signs: bleary eyes, oversized jackets zipped up against the chill, the seemingly endless wait for the bus. But there was tension underlying the routine: The trip was under the watchful eyes of parents, an alderman, a principal and police.

The escort to and from Crane Tech High School this week, dubbed "Operation Safe Passage" is just one of the ways Chicago is dealing with a wave of violence that has stunned the city.Since September, 20 Chicago Public Schools students have been killed, 18 by gunfire. Last school year, 24 of the more than 30 students killed were shot to death, compared with between 10 and 15 fatal shootings in the years before.

"The loss of life that we've seen among our young people is ... devastating," said school district spokesman Michael Vaughn. "This gun nonsense has reached a crisis level."

Nationally, homicide was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 in 2004, and of those killed, 81 percent were killed with a firearm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Operation Safe Passage began this week. It provides escorts for students from the ABLA Homes public housing development to Crane Tech High School. Many of the 120 students from the housing project have not been to school since March 7 because they fear retaliation after a reputed gang member from ABLA shot and killed another student who lived on a rival gang's turf.

Daley recently announced a new resource for police - access to the 4,500 security cameras mounted inside and outside about 200 elementary and high schools.

Daley also has rolled back the curfew times for minors by half an hour, to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.

Many observers insist the issue isn't a school problem but a symptom of overall violence in the city. In fact, students in some of the city's most violent neighborhoods say school -- with metal detectors, private security guards and uniformed police officers -- is the one place they feel safe.

Antigun activists and officials say the violence highlights a dangerous reality: Arguments among young people that used to be resolved with fistfights now end in gunfire.

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