This American Life Goes to School

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Last month, President Obama made a speech in Chicago, a city that has been ravaged by gun violence in the past few years, in which he lamented that “too many of our children are being taken away from us.”

One of the places bearing the brunt of that loss is Harper High School in Chicago’s South Side. Last year, a total of 29 current and recent students of the school were shot. Eight of them died. Last month, NPR’s This American Life did a two-part series on the school to find out “how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances.” They spent five months at the school, talking with teachers, students and parents about what it’s like to live amidst persistent gun violence.

The result is a stunning piece of journalism. Listen in:

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  • Anonymous

    Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation yet also has one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, with the majority of the killings taking place in the South and West sides of the city. I am reminded of “Bad Leroy Brown” by the late Jim Croce. The first line goes “The south side of Chicago is the baddest part of town….” Seems like it’s just as true now as it was back in the 1970s.

    What is amazing is that everyone thinks more gun laws will work. As the old saying goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

    Nothing worthwhile is going to happen until pundits, media and leaders realize the problem is not “gun violence,” it’s “violence” and that problem won’t be resolved without some serious effort.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Chicago does have some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and so does New York City. The problem with Chicago is that the laws are not enforced, in New York they are.

  • Mark Elron

    How much violence is directly related to drug prohibition? Haven’t we seen this violence before? Does the City of Chicago have amnesia? Are they shooting each other over football scores?

  • Stephanie Mann

    As a crime and violence prevention specialist for 36 years, these recording are tragic. However, there is hope. My article, “Save Our Children: Faith, Family and Community” offers a major missing piece of the puzzle. If interested, contact me. P.S. I was interviewed by Bill Moyers in 1995.

  • jdowd

    you need to listen to the episode – they address this. most of the guns come from outside Chicago – the lax guns laws outside the city and the state contribute greatly to this problem. Plus, the violence could be much worse if everyone had a gun readily available (instead of stashed somewhere) and if these kids could openly practice target shooting – one person notes that one of the only saving graces for some kids is that they are such bad shots.

  • Edmonia

    Not picking on you, just thinking about how hard hearted we have had to become to talk about children who do not kill other children as poor shots. Hope we are all clear that it is extraordinary that any of these kids can study at all considering they suffer from a level of PTSD equal to any combat vet. Are we being turned to stone emotionally?

  • Anonymous

    And yet, the people who pull the triggers don’t come from outside Chicago. They come from Chicago. You could build a wall around Chicago, and around that wall dig a moat, filled with alligators, who have been injected with steroids and forced to listen to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” on a loop, and it would still be just as violent and nasty as it is right now.

    Because what needs controlling isn’t the inanimate objects in Chicago, but the animals. The animals in Chicago are violent and dangerous.

  • Anonymous

    Which lax gun laws? Those of the state of Illinois? The ones that require a state-police-issued Firearm Owner Identification Card in order to purchase or possess a firearm anywhere in the state? The ones that prohibit the concealed carrying of a firearm by anyone except police? The ones that make no provision for a concealed carry license? Those laws?

    Out of state? Don’t know where you’ve been for the past 45 years, but it’s been a federal offense to sell a handgun to someone who is a resident of a different state since the Gun Control Act of 1968. That includes private sales.

    So what’s happening is that people are breaking the law to get guns. Then they’re breaking the law by killing other people. Chances are pretty good they intended to kill someone when they got the gun. Since they were already okay with murder, breaking a gun law is trivial.

    And the guns and murders are found mostly in the parts of the city I mentioned. While the south and west sides were running up the body count, Chicago’s central business district didn’t have a single homicide in 2012.

    Look, I know Bill Moyers: he’s one of the best journalists we’ve got. But that doesn’t mean I agree with him about everything. In this case, based on a lot of research, I believe he’s wrong.

    Chicago has a long history of violence and the city has yet to admit the problem goes far deeper than the presence or absence of guns. Until the city decides to attack the core problem of violence. it will continue to have one of the highest homicide rates in the nation.

  • Anonymous

    No more hard-hearted than these young killers. One can mourn the lost child but one still has to deal with the monster it has become.

  • Al Loomis

    the problem is poverty, resulting crime, magnified by the ‘war on drugs.’ nothing will be done about any of this, for there will be no hope of change until those on the bottom organize to create democracy.