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Derrion Albert murder, $65 million in federal money, launched 'Safe Passage' preacher patronage program

The report in the Chicago Tribune of August 8, 2013, that "Safe Passage" still hasn't been fully implemented as Chicago schools move towards the most tumultuous opening in history (thanks to the closing of 49 schools and the disruptive changes at a dozen others) in less than three weeks highlights just another example of the "Management by Publicity Stunt" that is a signal feature of the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As the Tribune reports (see very far, below), just about the only part of "Safe Passage" in place as of the second week of August 2013 is that the signs have been put up on lamp posts at most of the routes.

But the "Safe Passage" people, who are supposed to protect kids from gang violence for $10 per hour (usually funneled through a local church program), are still not in place, and CPS has to be very careful about who is screened and hired for the patronage jobs. One thing that nation's third largest school system doesn't want is for the public to learn, thanks to some enterprising reporters, that a "Safe Passage" hireling has a record of gang crimes, or sex crimes, or some other nasty thing (say, drugs).

But it would be unfair to talk about the mendacity of the administration of Rahm Emanuel without reporting the historical context. "Safe Passage" in its current iteration was made possible by a $65 million federal grant brought to Chicago in 2009 following the You Tube video of the beating death of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert. In October 2009, the world was shocked to see the brutal beating murder of one of its high school students on video, thanks to You Tube. So the name "Derrion Albert" became a code word for gang violence, and the patronage and propaganda forces moved in with vigor to cover up the problem and divert attention.

At a press conference at Chicago's City Hall, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Chicago's public schools would be receiving a two-year federal grant of $65 million to reduce what was called "youth violence" (leaving out the drug gangs that are responsible for most of the violence, which included the gruesome murder of the Fenger High School junior).

In a statement to the media issued by the U.S. Department of Education on October 7, 2009, Arne Duncan, who was still in his first year as U.S. Secretary of Education, laid out the main lines of the program that was later implemented by (then) Chicago Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Ron Huberman.

DUNCAN'S OCTOBER STATEMENT ON YOUTH VIOLENCE:

October 7, 2009

In recent weeks America has seen a side of Chicago that we all wish didn’t exist. The graphic video of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert being fatally beaten is terrifying, heartbreaking and tragic. It shocks the conscience.

This bright and happy young honor student had his whole life ahead of him – but now it has been cut short by senseless violence.

I came here at the direction of the President not to place blame on anyone but to join with Chicago and with communities across America in taking responsibility for this death and the deaths of so many other young people over the years.

People like Blair Holt, Starkeisha Reed, Dantrell Davis – and dozens of others over the years here in Chicago were victims of a society that has somehow lost its way – and allowed too many of our children to devalue life.

Somehow, many of our young people have lost faith in the future. They’ve been denied the love, support and guidance they need – and have grown up believing that their life is not worth anything – so no one else’s life is worth anything either.

More than 100 reporters and TV crews packed into Mayor Daley's press room for the October 7, 2009, press conference. The media included TV crews from France and other countries who came to Chicago because of the international publicity caused by the video of the beating death of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.And that’s a problem we cannot solve with money or by pointing fingers at each other or by looking the other way. We must engage directly with our children – starting at the youngest age.

We must engage with them at every stage of their lives – and teach them that violence doesn’t solve anything and that respect for others is the foundation of a safe and healthy society.

It’s an important lesson that every parent, teacher, and every adult needs to understand so they can pass it on to young people – whether it’s their own children or someone else’s.

Every adult shares this responsibility. Every adult needs to connect – because all children need adults in their lives. It starts with parents but it always continues with others – teachers, coaches, mentor, and friends.

I came here today not merely out of sadness – but with hope and compassion for our kids. I came here because I believe in Chicago’s capacity to deal with this openly, honestly and directly.

Arne Duncan's successor as 'Chief Executive Officer' of Chicago's public schools, Ron Huberman, was not asked to speak and not allowed to take questions during the October 7 City Hall media event. In fact, many reporters didn't know who Huberman was, as he was marginalized to the corner of the crowd carefully lined up behind the mayor's podium during the media event. Huberman is beside the American flag on the left in the photo above, blocked partly by the French TV camera in the foreground of the photograph. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.This is my home – the city where I grew up – where I played ball and tutored children in a church basement on the south side. My friends are here. My family is here. I learned everything I know in these communities and in these schools.

And I learned about character. This is the city that never gives up when it is challenged. This is the city that always unites in the face of adversity.

This is the city that has produced great leaders and thinkers – a great Mayor and America’s first Black President -- men and women who are shaping the future and giving real meaning to words like courage, strength, and pride.

Chicago won’t be defined by this incident but rather by our response to it – so I came here today to join with you and with communities all across America to call for a national conversation on values.

It’s a conversation that should happen in every city in America where violence, intolerance, and discrimination exists.

For reasons that were not explained to the media on October 7, those behind Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan during the press conference did not include any teachers, students, or others from Fenger High School. Fenger became international news following the September 24, 2009, murder of Fenger junior Derrion Albert during a gang fight a half mile from the school following the end of the school day. Behind Duncan (above) are six Chicago aldermen and one community activist who was brought in to the press conference by a French TV reporter who had been trying to cover the day's events at Fenger. The aldermen above behind Duncan are (left to right): Nastaha Thomas, John Pope, Ray Suarez (white hair), Anthony Beale, Ariel Reboyras, and Roberto Maldonado. Almost completely obscured behind Duncan is alderman Carrie Austin. On the far right in the photo above are Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Daley's media chief, Jacqueline Heard. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Chicago is not unique: five students have been killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma already this year. Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami and many rural communities have also lost schoolchildren to violence in recent weeks.

And the cost goes far beyond the immediate victims and their families. When kids are fearful they can’t learn – and if they can’t learn then we are all at risk because our future depends on the quality of education we give our children.

This morning, the Attorney General and I started the conversation with Mayor Daley and with faith and community leaders. We talked with elected officials and school officials. We also met with Fenger students and parents and the principal.

We plan to go to other cities to meet and talk with people and find ways to protect our children. I also told CPS officials that the Department of Education will give an emergency grant to help restore the learning environment at Fenger.

They can use the money as they choose – for counselors or security or student development activities. The money is not just for Fenger—but for the schools that feed into Fenger as well. But this is not about the money. Money alone will never solve this problem. It’s much deeper than that. It’s about our values. It’s about who we are a society. And it’s about taking responsibility for our young people to teach them what they need to know to live side-by-side and deal with their differences without anger or violence. They must learn to love each other.

Every one of us must take responsibility for this. To those who seek to lay blame on anyone else, I challenge you to ask first what you have done.

I challenge every parent, community leader, and adult to step up and join this conversation. I challenge our students to sit down with each other -- to look at their classmates and find what they have in common. The first responsibility of a healthy society is to find common ground and work together toward our common good. That’s what made America. That’s what made Chicago. And that’s what it will take for communities across this country to bring an end to the violence that has taken the lives of so many young people.

Current Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Rob Huberman was the invisible man during the City Hall activities about "youth violence" in Chicago on October 7, 2009. But Huberman's staff continued to work to spin the media coverage, even as Huberman becomes more and more unwilling to speak directly to the press, except at times when he and his staff are in complete control. Above, following the press conference in the mayor's office, CPS Communications Chief Officer Monique Bond (left) talks with Sun-Times education reporter Rosalind Rossi (right) and Sun-Times editorial writer Kate Grossman (center). Bond has ignored most requests for information from Substance reporters since August 2009, and most recently have ignored a Substance question: How many teachers at Fenger High School are left from last school year? Rumors at the school state that only seven (or nine) adults from the 2008-2009 staff returned to Fenger in September 2009, when the students returned. In the past year, Fenger has had three principals, the most recent of whom is Elizabeth Dozier, who was praised by Arne Duncan during the question and answer following his prepared remarks. But at the time of the Derrion Albert murder, Dozier had been at Fenger for less than eight weeks, the result of the CPS "turnaround" policy that was promoted by Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. I am forever grateful for all that Chicago has offered me. I was deeply honored to serve this Mayor. I am deeply honored to serve this President.

Above all, I am honored to serve the people of Chicago and America -- and today I ask for your hand in partnership as we work together to raise our children safely, to educate them, and to enable them to fulfill their dreams.

Thank you.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE ARTICLE AUGUST 8, 2013 ON STATE OF SAFE PASSAGE AS NEW SCHOOL YEAR LOOMS

Security on new school routes still in flux, with just weeks to go... CPS says plans are on track, but training is behind schedule. By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune reporter

6:46 a.m. CDT, August 8, 2013

Less than three weeks before classes start, key elements of Chicago Public Schools' Safe Passage program to provide security for children going to new schools remain incomplete.

District officials say plans are on track to smoothly shift students from 47 schools being closed this year to nearby schools and that the routes students will take beginning Aug. 26 have been drawn up and vetted by police.

But Safe Passage routes have not been released to parents. Several vendors hired to carry out the Safe Passage program said they have not received maps of the streets they will be patrolling. Also, a full complement of workers is not yet in place, with many in line for jobs awaiting background checks.

Security was a top concern during the months of turmoil leading up to the district's decision to close 49 elementary schools (two of them are closing next year) and a high school program. With the first bell approaching, some vendors and parents expressed frustration with how the Safe Passage program has rolled out so far.

"We were promised maps before school started, and we have yet to see maps," said Angela Graham, who fought the closing of Key Elementary on the West Side. "They say they're hiring Safe Passage workers, but how can I be confident that they are the right people to be watching over my child? I don't know that. I don't know who they are."

Training for Safe Passage workers, originally targeted by CPS for this week, is now set to begin next Thursday, and the routes will be made public by then, district spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.

The major concern has been that children attending new schools will be going into unfamiliar neighborhoods and crossing gang boundaries, which in Chicago can shift from week to week.

Ebenezer Community Outreach in East Garfield Park, hired to provide Safe Passage at two elementary schools designated to take in students from schools that were closed, has been told it can hire 10 people to supervise children making their way to Ward Elementary.

Ward has moved into the building formerly occupied by Ryerson Elementary, which closed in June. The two schools are only about two blocks apart but are in communities dominated by rival gangs, and safety has been a concern for years.

"Our concern is that we do not feel adequately staffed," said Laura Bass, program manager of Ebenezer Community Outreach. "We would like a minimum of 20 people."

The Safe Passage program was started by CPS after the beating death of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert in 2009, and until now has been used mostly for high schools. Last school year, it was added in four communities where elementary schools closed.

Because so many schools closed this year, CPS added nearly $8 million to Safe Passage and is hiring an additional 600 people to escort students along designated safety routes during arrival and dismissal times.

All told, 59 additional schools will be receiving Safe Passage support when school begins. CPS stands behind the program, with a school district attorney noting in court last month that none of the students from the four schools that were closed last year were shot going to or from school. Carroll said incidents of crime have dropped on streets when they are monitored by Safe Passage workers.

But gang expert John Hagedorn said he doesn't think the program is enough to protect children from gang violence. A criminology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Hagedorn said school closings will aggravate tensions in many communities.

"This is appearance management," said Hagedorn, who recently testified in a federal hearing on a Chicago Teachers Union-backed lawsuit fighting the closings.

"They are managing the appearance of safety, but the reality of safety isn't there," he said. "You're saying you're doing something, but none of the things they've proposed are going to deal with rival gang members angered over people coming on their turf."

Roseland CeaseFire, part of the citywide anti-violence group, is running a Safe Passage program on the Far South Side as a subcontractor for the Nehemiah Restoration Coalition and Healthcare Consortium of Illinois.

Bob Jackson, executive director of Roseland CeaseFire, said he is aware of threats to disrupt students moving from West Pullman Elementary, which was closed, to Haley Elementary several blocks north, and has passed that information on to police and CPS.

CeaseFire, which often hires former gang members, has made an effort to look for employees with no gang ties because the proposed Safe Passage route goes through at least three gang lines, Jackson said.

"If you hire gang members, they'll only be able to walk a block before hitting a gang boundary," Jackson said. "You need neutral people who don't have a gang interest."

Most vendors say they are paying $10 an hour and are looking for people with a vested interest in the students and the community. Black United Fund of Illinois took referrals from principals and sought to hire Local School Council members and parents. Henry English, who heads the group, also said "the routes are not finalized."

"We should be sitting down this week" with stakeholders including CPS officials and community members to complete the routes, he said.

CPS will inform the vendors if those they have chosen for jobs pass screening for an array of drug, sex and violent crime offenses and can be hired. The district does not require that the Safe Passage workers take drug tests.

In developing its Safe Passage plan, CPS said it listened to input from parents and community members and took into consideration busy streets, abandoned homes and problem businesses. The city's Transportation Department has put up Safe Passage signs at 10 schools, and eventually every route will have signs.

In addition to having Safe Passage workers on the street, the district is equipping the schools taking in students with new camera systems, metal-detecting hand wands and alarm systems. Many schools will also get metal detectors and all will be getting extra security, with most guards from closed schools being transferred to receiving schools.

Also, CPS is adding programs in some schools to help students resolve conflicts

In the federal hearing over the CTU-backed lawsuit, Jadine Chou, CPS' head of safety and security, said she did not believe the students whose schools have been closed face increased risk going to a new school.

"We are taking steps to pre-empt any potential risks," Chou said.

Jackson said he is concerned not just about having enough Safe Passage staff along the designated routes, but on side streets flanking those routes. He is asking for up to 20 more workers for the Haley route he oversees and will be working with other vendors to see if there are nearby routes that can complement coverage.

CPS spokeswoman Carroll said the Safe Passage routes will continue to be tweaked and amended throughout the year with input from principals, parents, police and Safe Passage workers.

"We will continue to work with them to address any needs that arise, including concerns around personnel needs," she said.

nahmed@tribune.com



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