Don't Fail Derrion Albert Again

Economic response needed, not a political one

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP Image
    Nadashia Thomas, 6, a cousin of Derrion Albert, holds a sign beside a poster of him at Fenger High School.

    Two members of President Obama's cabinet are in Chicago today to discuss youth violence in the wake of the Derrion Albert tragedy.

    On its face, this seems like an entirely reasonable and compassionate response from the White House.

    Or is it? 

    Please tell me: Why are they here again?

    At its heart, this is neither an education issue nor a law enforcement issue. It's an economic issue. They aren't killing themselves at New Trier - and that's because of money, not race. (Memo to pundits: There is no such thing as "black-on-black" crime; what we are witnessing is the poor killing the poor, mostly out of proximity.)

    I'm sure Duncan and Holder and Obama and Daley really care. I have no doubt about that. But, if Duncan were from, say, Kansas City, he'd likely still be in Washington fabricating test scores. (Similarly, Obama wouldn't have gone to Copenhagen to support a bid from Houston 2016. Chicago is the tail wagging the White House.)

    And Attorney General Eric Holder isn't unaware of youth violence in America; he's also trying to work out the closing of Guantanamo and figure out how to prosecute former members of the Bush administration for war crimes. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, on the other hand, has been intimately involved in not only gang prosecutions but violence prevention programs in the city. His presence at any session would more than suffice.

    All of this is not to somehow devalue the life of Derrion Albert. To the contrary.

    It's to say the value of his life is worth far more than a political dog-and-pony show.

    Reacting to Albert's death because of political public relations imperatives is no way to create policy that will prevent future tragedies.

    Were it not for a piece of video shot in a city run by Richard M. Daley - if Derrion Albert were killed in Omaha - this meeting would not be taking place today. And that being the case can only lead to the conclusion that it is effectively a diversion from the real issues.

    Despite the bulk of his political experience coming as a state senator representing a Chicago district, Obama studiously avoided talking about urban affairs and inner city poverty during his presidential campaign. Too racial.

    But now we're left to wonder: What is Obama's plan for America's urban poor -- who are disproportionately African American? Where is the bailout for them?

    As for Daley, he says he's out of ideas. And after 20 years as mayor with no discernible progress except the building of magnet schools to scurry the best, the brightest and the cloutiest far from danger, that's understandable. It also means it's time for someone new, especially given that he also said the Olympic bid was his last economic development idea. 

    There will be no Chicago 2016 plan for the city's Derrion Alberts.

    Violence summits and community marches and preaching to parents are events that come and go with each fresh tragedy. And then they come and go again. Until a president, his cabinet and mayors like Daley are willing to face the root cause of all this heartache head-on - an economic structure that preaches morals and character to the bottom instead of the top - the merry-go-round of death will keep spinning.

    And the next president will dispatch cabinet officers to their hometown.

    Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.