Chicago Teens Encourage Nonviolent Actions The brutal killing of a Chicago teenager in September brought U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the city to speak out about youth violence. Now that the Cabinet members are back in Washington, what is happening in the effort to stop youth violence? Some Chicago teenagers are taking on the issue themselves.
NPR logo

Chicago Teens Encourage Nonviolent Actions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Chicago Teens Encourage Nonviolent Actions

Chicago Teens Encourage Nonviolent Actions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In Chicago, when a high school student was beaten to death last September, both the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of education visited the city. They called for a national conversation on youth violence, and the people of Chicago are talking. Some teens are meeting to figure out how to stop violence. Others are voicing frustration that it remains so persistent. NPR's David Schaper has this report.

Unidentified Man: Later.

DAVID SCHAPER: In an alley on Chicago's northwest side, two teenage friends are playing around on bikes. Just about 36 hours earlier, a few feet away, a 15-year-old boy, who police say admitted to being a gang member, was shot and critically wounded.

Mr. EDUARDO MEDINA: I heard the gunshots, but I honestly ignore them.

SCHAPER: Seventeen-year-old Eduardo Medina says he often hears gunshots in this part of the racially and economically diverse Albany Park neighborhood. And he says he's constantly concerned about his safety.

Mr. MEDINA: I'm practically at risk of violence every single step I take in this neighborhood. I'm not safe at all.

SCHAPER: Medina and his friend, Eric Correa, say they're cautious, but they don't want to be too cautious - after all, they're teenagers, and they want to be able to enjoy an unseasonably warm afternoon like this one. The gang violence in their neighborhood, Eduardo Medina says, is just a part of everyday life.

Mr. MEDINA: You can't really get used to the violence, but violence is actually - you have to adapt to the environment that you live in, because you can wish so much that the violence would go away, that the gangs would go away, but they're just another pest.

SCHAPER: Since the shooting, police say they've beefed up patrols in this neighborhood. And all around the city, there is now a much greater police presence at Chicago high schools at dismissal time.

The Chicago Public Schools are putting more resources into ensuring safe passage for students to and from school. And a new program identifies the students most at risk for becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence, and will provide them with mentors, counseling and jobs.

There appears to be a new urgency to addressing youth violence in Chicago since 16-year old Derrion Albert was killed in after-school street fight. There have been peace summits, town hall meetings, panel discussions and forums, and some Chicago high school students are taking on youth violence themselves.

Mr. JUSTIN RICHARDSON (Community Organizer): We're comfortable around violence.

SCHAPER: This classroom in a South Side high school is full on a recent weekday off of school.

Teenagers from all over Chicago got up early for this Youth Activism conference, gathering for discussions and workshops, some of which were aimed at giving them the tools to be peacemakers in their own schools and communities.

Leading a session called Peace Strategies, community organizer Justin Richardson tells the students that rather than accepting the violence all around them, they should start doing something about it, using nonviolent strategies.

Mr. RICHARDSON: As nonviolent practitioners, as people who understand types and levels of nonviolence, you have to say to yourself, how do I make violence uncomfortable? How do I make people react to violence in a way that they will want to stop violence because it's uncomfortable - not just to the people fighting, but the people who are watching the fighting going on?

SCHAPER: Richardson also shows them how to better recognize the types and levels of conflict. Understanding how conflict starts can help them keep the peace, he says. And many of the students seem to agree.

Mr. ARMANI BELL (Student): It's going to take a lot of work.

SCHAPER: 18-year-old Armani Bell, a senior at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago, is one of several students who called the workshop worthwhile.

Mr. BELL: It all starts on the streets. I mean, you might have a couple of kids who not having a good day, and they come at you and they be saying, you bumped me on purpose. And they don't let stuff go. And that's something that kids will have to work on. And I'm - including myself. Kids will have to work on that and learn how to work their problem out instead of just fighting.

SCHAPER: But even the organizers caution that a couple of hours in a workshop won't suddenly make these teenagers superheroes who can stop every fight they see.

Jaime Arteaga is with a Chicago-based group called the Mikva Challenge, that works to increase teenage civic involvement. He says it will also take much more than a visit from the attorney general and the education secretary to bring change.

Mr. JAIME ARTEAGA (Mikva Challenge): The solutions are not going to come from that, from a visit, from a $500,000 grant. It's going to come from a long-term commitment and strategy, comprehensive strategy that's going to take several years.

SCHAPER: And Arteaga says the solutions must involve the young people who live with this pervasive level of violence every day.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at 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.