Tim King, flanked by students, speaks to reporters at Urban Prep’s Englewood Campus. | Photo courtesy of Urban Prep Academies
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:11AM
The same night that people across the country were finding out about a mass shooting inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., I learned that one of our students had been shot, and his friend killed, in Chicago.
The reaction to the shooting in Colorado that left 12 people dead was one of shock. The shooting in one night of three more African-American boys on Chicago’s South Side — including the city’s 287th homicide — on the other hand, went largely unnoticed. I think this speaks volumes about the level to which we’ve become inured to violence in our cities, and it needs to change if we are ever going to help underserved urban communities around the country escape the cycles of violence that currently plague them.
So far this year, there have been more than 450 homicides in Chicago. If there’s any reaction to these killings, it’s rarely to ask what can be done to stop the violence, and never what responsibility we as members of an unequal society have in causing it. More often, the response is to accept the deaths as just part of living in a big city and to call for measures like increased policing to limit its spread.
But additional policing can only do so much in a city where more people have been killed this year than U.S. military in Afghanistan. We need to do more to address the endemic poverty and hopelessness that make criminal behavior seem like a rational choice. We have to improve schools, expand social services, increase job opportunities, and strengthen community groups so that residents in neighborhoods plagued by violence feel that they have a voice that can be heard in the larger community. We have to recognize that no matter how distant the experience may seem between a child in Lincoln Park and one in Humboldt Park, they are all our children and our responsibility.
The student who was shot is back in school finishing his senior year. His older brother was also our student. I say was because he’s no longer with us; he graduated this past year, having been accepted to 17 colleges and receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which will cover all of his college expenses. This is how we want young people to leave us; we want them to go to college, not to the morgue.
If that alumnus hadn’t been away at a pre-college summer program, it’s likely he would have been with his younger brother when the shooting occurred, and one of the bullets fired could have hit him, too. Just like the folks who happened to miss that movie screening in Colorado, chance kept him out of harm’s way. But the safety of people in our cities shouldn’t be left up to chance. Their safety should be left up to us.
Tim King donated his fee for writing this column to Urban Prep Academies, a nonprofit organization he founded that operates three all-boys charter public schools in high-need Chicago communities. All of Urban Prep graduates, all African-American males and mostly from low-income families, have been admitted to college. Urban Prep will host Aces UP!, its annual celebrity charity poker tournament on Nov.30 (www.acesuptourney.com).