Obama Sends Holder To Chicago Over Teen's Death

President Obama is sending Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago next week to discuss the recent beating death of a 16-year-old honors student. Chicago prosecutors have charged four teenagers in the beating of the sophomore.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Barack Obama will send Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago next week to address the problem of youth violence. The catalyst for the trip was the grizzly death of a teenager. Last week, a 16-year-old honor student was caught up in a wild street fight and beaten to death.

NPR's David Schaper joins us from Chicago. And David, tell us more, please, about this fight and how it got the attention of the White House.

DAVID SCHAPER: Well, after school last Thursday afternoon, two groups of students from Fenger High School in the city's south side, who apparently have been feuding and fighting for some time, engaged in a big street brawl a few blocks away from the school.

There's cell phone video of this incident and it's gone viral on the Internet, on YouTube, been shown all around the world on television news. It shows kids throwing punches and swinging what appear to be splintered railroad ties. Sixteen-year-old Derrion Albert, an honor student, who police say was an innocent bystander just caught up in this whole chaotic scene was hit, punched, beaten. He was even stomped.

Then last night there was another beating in the city - this time on the far north side. Police say a 14-year-old was chased by three other teens and hit on the head with a pipe. He remains in critical condition with a skull fracture. These two incidents are unrelated, but appear to show a growing problem of urban violence.

BLOCK: Growing problem. And what's the thinking on what is behind or what links these two attacks in some way?

SCHAPER: Well, Chicago, along with a lot of other cities, has grappled with the problem of youth violence for a long time. But Chicago has a unique gang problem. Chicago police officials admit that the problem of gangs in Chicago is much worse than it is in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles. But at the same time, police and experts say there seems to be a growth of neighborhood cliques. Not gangs in the organized crime sense, but just groups of kids who are banded together by their neighborhood boundaries who are increasingly fighting one another. It's what they say is an increasingly violent culture in the city of Chicago and around the country.

BLOCK: So the visit next week behind the attorney general and the Education secretary, is that purely symbolic? Is there something specific they're supposed to do?

SCHAPER: Well, it's not entirely clear yet, since the meeting was just announced. But Arne Duncan, head of the Chicago public school system before he became Education secretary, spent many years dealing with the problem of the youth violence. And now his successor of the Chicago public schools, Ron Huberman, kicked off the new school year a month ago, even before these latest incidents with some bold new initiatives to try to address what he calls a culture of violence in the city of Chicago. He says they need to create a culture of calm within the schools to try to counter that culture of violence that exists outside of the schools.

BLOCK: And, David, all of this, of course, coming as Chicago is trying very hard to win the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

SCHAPER: Yeah. Today in Denmark, where the International Olympic Committee is meeting, there was a reporter who asked about the Chicago violence. And some of the U.S. Olympians said Chicago is a safe city and we'll be safer athletes. But they also pointed out that sports gives young people something to do. Keeps them out of trouble, gives them greater hope and there will opportunities with the Olympics coming to Chicago, if it happens, for kids in Chicago to get involved in Olympic type sports.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's David Schaper in Chicago. Thanks very much.

SHAPERS: Thank you, Melissa.

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