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Crime & Punishment

When Schools Become Danger Zones

Posters serve as a memorial to 16-year-old Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death outside Fenger High School in Chicago on Sept. 24, 2009. Stan Barouh/Woolly Mammoth hide caption

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Stan Barouh/Woolly Mammoth

Three weeks ago today, on September 24, Derrion Albert, a high school honor student in Chicago, was beaten to death on his way home from school. He got caught in a brawl that, by all accounts, had nothing to do with him — a continuation of a conflict that started earlier that day when a shot was fired outside of a neighborhood high school. Albert lived in that neighborhood, but attended another school. He had to pass by on his way home.

Was there another route he could have taken? Another bus? A different subway? I have no idea. But I do know he shouldn't have had to. Didn't he have the right to go the fastest way home without fear of losing his life?

He isn't the only one.

ON Tuesday, five D.C. teenagers were shot around 4 in the afternoon, two of them died and by accounts of police and relatives one of the murdered had nothing to do with the conflict , He was just 15. So that's the headline we'll all remember but what about the stuff that doesn't make the front page, that barely makes the papers at all? The every day violence that kids are subjected to.

For the last few weeks, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Colbert King has been writing about how the students at a public school in D.C. are routinely attacked by other kids on their way to and from school. Just last week, a ninth grader had to be hospitalized after being jumped for no reason on his way home.

(Here are the columns by King if you want to read them: the first piece and then the follow-up.)

I remember when I was a White House Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, unlike reporters for the broadcast networks or the wire services we didn't stay at the White House all day, our offices were nearby so we would come and go depending on what was going on. And I think I have written about this before, but I remember standing at the edge of Farragut Square Park everyday and debating whether I wanted to go the shortest way, the most direct way, and endure the gauntlet of sexist, personal, and degrading comments about my legs, my body and whatever else from the bike messengers, homeless men and hangers-on who took up residence in the park. (You can say what you want about words don't hurt and all that but it was often very graphic and very disgusting and I bet you wouldn't want someone talking to your mother or your daughter or you that way so ... let's just leave it at that.) But I never feared for my life. And if I really did, you know what? I am sure my boss would have sprung for a cab, or a car service, even. I guarantee it. I would not have been expected to risk my life going about my daily job, unless I was in Iraq or Afghanistan and I had intentionally signed up knowing that was the deal.

So what about these schoolchildren, folks? Did they sign up for school? Or did they sign up to go through a war zone everyday?

That's what I want to know.