Teens Exposed To Gun Violence Face Tough Road Advocates in Chicago say schools there should address school violence in their curriculum before students are shot or killed. This might help students cope with the violence. "Being shot at but not murdered or being stabbed and not killed happens at a rate 120 times higher than the murder rate among adolescents," one expert says.
NPR logo

Teens Exposed To Gun Violence Face Tough Road

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132078175/134878751" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Teens Exposed To Gun Violence Face Tough Road

Teens Exposed To Gun Violence Face Tough Road

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132078175/134878751" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Over the past week, NPR has been examining youth violence in Chicago. The city has the third largest public school system in the nation, 409,000 students. In this school year, at least 15 of those students have died by gunfire. Last year, a total of 70 school age young people were shot and killed, another 611 were wounded.

NPR's Cheryl Corley spoke with one of the injured, a girl who survived a barrage of bullets just weeks before she turned 17.

CHERYL CORLEY: By late afternoon, the office of Roseland CeaseFire is full of staffers, former gang members who now work the streets, intervening in conflicts. Roseland, on Chicago's far South Side, is a neighborhood that struggles with gangs and gun violence. This office is where outreach workers council high-risk youth, helping them stay in school or find jobs. It's a place where they can safely tell their stories.

CORSHANA HATTER: My name is Corshana Hatter.

CORLEY: Corshana Hatter is 17. She found out about CeaseFire when the group was passing out flyers near her alternative high school. She's slim with Shirley Temple-like curls and her dark hair. She's been in and out of foster homes since she was seven, and she's on probation now, charged she says after getting into an argument with the police. She was staying in Roseland when she was shot last July.

HATTER: I was walking to my best friend's house because my foster parent had kicked me out. So I had to stay with my best friend until they found me a new foster home.

CORLEY: Corshana was walking with her boyfriend. It was late, about 11:30 at night, and they saw two other people on the street.

HATTER: So we weren't really paying that much attention to them.

CORLEY: But one of them had passed the gun to the other who fired three shots, first at Corshana's boyfriend.

HATTER: And only one of the bullets hit him, but I didn't know that only one hit him. I thought all of them hit him. So I thought he was on the ground on the side of the car laying there bleeding to death, so I was in shock. And I turned back around and that's when the boy started shooting me.

CORLEY: And what happened? Where did you get shot?

HATTER: I got shot twice in my arm, three times in my stomach and one time in my leg.

CORLEY: Dexter Voisin is a University of Chicago researcher who's been studying the response to community violence on Chicago's South Side. Common aftereffects include aggression, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. He says schools really should teach students how to cope with violence, because youth can be emotionally injured by what they see.

DEXTER VOISIN: Witnessing being shot at but not murdered, being stabbed but not killed, is 120 times higher than that of murder rates among adolescents.

CORLEY: But Voisin says, there's a system-wide school response when a young person is killed.

VOISIN: But that's only the tip of the iceberg. That doesn't really account for the vast majority of types of violence exposure. So I think really there needs to be a sort of ongoing attention to this in the school curriculum.

CORLEY: When Corshana was shot, she said she didn't know at first how badly she'd been hurt. She spit out her chewing gum. She'd been listening to music on her headphones, she put them in her wallet and took them out again. Her boyfriend was shot in the leg, but was still able to run home and notify his family. His mother called the police.

HATTER: Then while he was in the house, his father was down talking to me while I was on the ground trying to keep me up or whatever. And the police arrived and my boyfriend asked his mother was I going to be all right? She say, yeah, because I was still listening to my music and stuff.

CORLEY: The music, says Corshana, helped pull her through. She gestures towards the front of her jacket, bringing her hand down from her chest to her waist.

HATTER: They had to cut my stomach open and, like, from right here to right here. And I had to go home like that.

CORLEY: Corshana says she used to have dreams about being shot, but never believed it would happen. When it did, she says she knew who shot her, a boy in the neighborhood. She says the boy's best friend was shot a week earlier as she and others sat on the porch. She says the boy was out for revenge.

HATTER: I just think he had anger problem, the boy, I think he had anger problem. He tried to shoot everybody that was on the porch that night when his friend got shot.

CORLEY: Despite the violence that engulfed her, Corshana says she's not worried about her safety or afraid of the streets. But she doesn't believe the violence will ever stop.

HATTER: No, because people don't care. They don't have no feelings.

CORLEY: Harold Pollack, co-director of the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, says he understand that sense of resignation. But Pollack says there is evidence that kids can overcome violence in their neighborhoods.

HAROLD POLLACK: Oh, absolutely.

CORLEY: Pollack is studying the effectiveness of youth violence intervention programs. He says it's important not to become discouraged.

POLLACK: One can take a very nihilistic approach to this problem and say, we've spent all this money over all these decades. Yeah, we've spent a heck of a lot of money on cancer over the decades and a lot of people still die of cancer. But there's a lot of effective cancer treatments, too.

CORLEY: Pollack says what's needed is critical optimism, plus a realization that curbing violence will take time. As far as what's next for gun violence survivor Corshana, the teenager has a simple answer.

HATTER: Live my life.

CORLEY: She plans to go to college and wants to become a computer technician or a radiologist.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

SIMON: And tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION Sunday, you can hear the conclusion of our series. Chicago is investing millions into mentoring programs to help students in and outside school.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.