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Community mourns death of Derrion Albert
By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor-
Updated Oct 11, 2009 - 9:09:24 AM

Slain teen laid to rest, unanswered questions remain

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - The body of 16-year-old high school honor student Derrion Albert was laid to rest on October 3 following a somber funeral at Greater Mt. Hebron Baptist church on Chicago's Southside.

Many of Derrion's friends and classmates joined the procession past his casket with tears in their eyes as they looked into his face one last time.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, speaking at the funeral, told the mourners that “God is the giver of life and He is the ultimate cause of death.” While it is natural to question why God would take this young man, his death allows us to see the “horror of the senseless violence” in the streets of Chicago, he said.

“His death is a call to action!” said Min. Farrakhan. “This was a special young man of righteous bearing, whom God took from us so young, but may I remind you dear beloved followers of Jesus the Christ; he too was a young man. He too was a victim of mob violence, he too was special and because he was not a wicked person, his righteous life became the redemptive power for all of humanity,” said Min. Farrakhan.

Min. Farrakhan said while some may consider Black youth “unsalvageable” and though they may appear to be lost in the eyes of some, all are redeemable, no matter how horrible they are acting at the present time.

“Whenever you get to thinking that our children are unsalvageable then death and destruction is called down upon that which you believe can never be redeemed,” said Min. Farrakhan. “How can you say that Jesus saves? Is he powerless to save our children? How can you say that he is a redeemer and then look at the condition of our people and then think that it is hopeless?”

Min. Farrakhan encouraged the clergy, school administrators and others to go after the “lost sheep” that appear to be irretrievable.

“I ask, in the name of Derrion, who among us will go after that which is lost and bring it back to us? I believe all of our people can be saved,” said Min. Farrakhan.

Questions still unanswered

Many questions remain unanswered as more details emerge providing insight into the circumstances that led to the melee Sept. 24 which resulted in Derrion's death and serious injuries to four others.

One question asked by students and parents: Could it have been prevented?

Several students who asked not to be identified told The Final Call that the day Derrion was beaten to death, word circulated around the high school's hallways that a huge fight was going to take place after school. In fact, earlier that morning, there had been gun shots fired outside the high school. Then, around lunchtime, students said another fight broke out between two boys from rival neighborhoods that was related to the earlier shooting.

Students say the shooting and the mid-day skirmish led to the subsequent brawl that claimed Derrion's life, and police and school officials should have done more to prevent it.

“Everyone knew something was about to go down,” said a 16-year-old girl who was one of Derrion's classmates. “No disrespect to the police, but they were not on the job, and the security guards saw what was about to go down and turned the other way and went back to the school.”

Parents and students in the area surrounding Fenger High School said there exists a long-standing feud—almost two decades old—between those who live directly in the high school's neighborhood, called “The Ville” in Roseland, and students who attend the school from the Altgeld Gardens housing projects.

Andreia Dominick, 16, said violence is nothing new at Fenger.

“This has been going on over a long period of time at Fenger, two different neighborhoods getting into it. But I guess they thought it would never get to the point where someone got killed. Everybody knows there is a lot of violence at Fenger, and they fight all of the time,” said Ms. Dominick who lived a few doors down from Derrion, went to grade school with him and would often see him on the way home. Ms. Dominick said Derrion was always a smart boy. The type of person who always smiled, and was always there for her when she needed someone to talk to.

Chief Tina M. Skahill of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategies (CAPS) office said police are working to partner with different neighborhood anti-violence organizations as well as school administrators to minimize the existing conflicts in these neighborhoods and high schools.

At Final Call press time, four teenagers, 19-year-old Silvonus Shannon, 18-year-old Eugene Riley, 17-year-old Eugene Bailey and 16-year-old Eric Carson have all been charged with first-degree murder and are in jail. Police are still asking for anyone with additional information regarding those involved in the beating death to come forward.

Responding to accusations that the police were slow to the scene of the melee and reports that the initial responders did not immediately intervene, embattled Chicago Police Supt. Jody P. Weis, said the first 911 call arrived at 2:53 p.m., a car was dispatched at 2:55 p.m. and arrived at the scene one minute later at 2:56 p.m.

At Derrion Albert's funeral, Supt. Weis told The Final Call that they are doing everything they can, working diligently redeploying officers and reorganizing patrols when needed in the area around Fenger high school and in many other areas of the city.

Eyewitnesses and law enforcement officials said up to 50 people could have been involved in the clash. Speaking to the press on Sept. 28, Chicago police spokesman Dana Starks said many high schools around the city of Chicago, including Fenger, have neighborhood rivalries that lead to these types of conflicts. Since the fight was spread over a four or five block radius, there were several different violent flashpoints, and details are still being sorted out and tensions remain high, he said.

A vigil that was to be held on Sept. 26, just two days after Derrion's death was cancelled because of fear of retaliation, and a makeshift memorial placed at the location of his death consisting of cards, posters, stuffed animals and flowers was set on fire the night after it was erected.

Nationwide attention

Hip hop artist Nas wrote “An Open Letter to the Young Warriors in Chicago” decrying the death of Derrion. Bow Wow posted a two-minute YouTube video titled “Stop the Violence and Increase the Peace.”

After watching the video of Derrion Albert being killed, in a heartfelt blog entry, actress Reagan Gomez-Preston wrote:

“Our kids are pi--ed off and frustrated. Momma is working two and three jobs, struggling to keep it together, and kids are left on their own. This isn't a new problem. We know this.” She goes on to ask, “Do we know who started the fight? Does it matter? I know what I saw on the tape. When you're in that rage, it's all, emotional. You just wanna fight the closest thing to you. And most of the time, it's someone who looks just like you. And guess what? They're going through the same thing you're going through.”

Since Derrion's death, there has been an increased police presence in the area of the high school, however, students said even with stepped up police patrols, they don't feel safe. Many believe it is only a matter of time before another chaotic and perhaps deadly brawl takes place.

“They (police) sit in their car with their sirens going off telling everybody to get away from the school but it seems like once it gets off of school grounds, they don't really care about what else happens,” said 17-year-old Fenger high school student Bonnie Fitts.

On Sept. 30, approximately 200 concerned parents met at Sheldon Heights Church of Christ which is located less than a mile away from Fenger. Parents heard from principal Elizabeth Dozier, 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin, Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman, Mike Shields, director of safety and security for Chicago Public Schools and Chief Skahill. Derrion's aunt, Rose Braxton, spoke briefly to the media along with Ameena Matthews of CeaseFire, a conflict mediation and prevention group. Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/PUSH was also present to lend support to the family.

Ms. Dozier, who has been the principal at Fenger for just one month, said, “There are many kinds of facets to the solution, and we all play a really integral part.” Ms. Dozier said she will be working very closely with the parents and staff of Fenger, along with officials from the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools to maintain a safe environment for the students.

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown said stopping the crime and violence in Chicago should be the “main focus” of the police department and proactive ways to maintain a safe learning environment for youth must be “stepped up” by the Chicago Public Schools.

“It is my hope that the same fervor that we sought to get the 2016 Olympics be put towards saving our youth because our youth are our future and we must do everything we can to stop this violence,” said Ms. Brown. “We are losing valuable young men and women like Derrion Albert, an honor roll student, a very sensitive young man—it is a travesty that he had to lose his life in this way.”

According to Mr. Huberman, who presides over the third largest school system in the country, more can be done in all areas to prevent these types of tragedies and officials are working hard to find the right answer. One such program is the “Safe Passage” program, launched at 38 of Chicago's high schools that represent approximately 80 percent of all incidents of violence involving students. In this plan, the Chicago Police Department, the CTA and principals of the high schools will analyze gang territories, school boundaries and police district boundaries to determine routes that students will be able to use that would be adequately resourced in order to be considered safe for passage.

Additionally, Mr. Huberman said, using portions of $30 million in stimulus money, CPS will be providing nine school buses to transport students to Fenger high school safely.

“This funeral becomes another symbol of the breakdown of society. We have failed, we all share in this failure and in this death. This is blood crying out from the ground like Abel. If we do not respond to this, then the blood of every child (lost) is going to be on our hands,” said Father Michael Pfleger of the Faith Community of St. Sabina.

Derrion's mother An-Janette Albert, speaking through tears, thanked everyone for their outpouring of love for her fallen son.

“It was beautiful; it was wonderful,” said Ms. Albert. “You just don't know how many people care about you.”

Ms. Albert says now, almost two weeks later, she still can't find adequate words to describe how she felt when she heard that her son was dead.

“I still don't know how I feel. It still hasn't really sunk in yet that he is gone,” Ms. Albert told The Final Call.

Related story:

We must all be activists to stop youth violence (FCN, 10-05-2009)

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