Unfortunately, there were a lot of “Derrion Albert’s” before Derrion and as Phillip Jackson of The Black Star Project continuously displays, the number of “Derrion’s” that continue to happen each week in our community and we have some how collectively have adjusted to the symbolic and less than “band-aid” approaches to addressing proactive and not reactive ways to stop the violence. I arrived late to the Press Conference and Photo Opportunity event that Phillip Jackson and The Black Star Project hosted for the mother and family of Derrion Albert at his office, and I attempted to speak to, and interview the mom, but she had just finished her last interview with who I thought was Mark Konkul of The Sun Times. And then a strange thing happened when me and my newspaper photographer tried to catch the mom again as she was in the lobby and I asked if I could get a photo with her to publish in my paper, and she agreed and we took a picture, along with her young daughter, but another unidentified Black woman came over and stopped us with a comment “you got to go and ain’t got time to be posing with him.” Wow, but the mom humbly obliged her, apologized to me for not being able to pose for another shot that my newspaper photographer was trying to set up for us.
Again, I know I got to the press conference and photo opportunity session late but after watching the mom with Mark Konkul of The Sun Times for over a half hour and listening to his line of questioning, I went to Phillip Jackson and asked for deference and if he could get me at least five or ten minutes with the mom in that I was just not another reporter, but also one of the many community/political activists who actually led many marches and demonstrations BEFORE Derrion was killed, trying to stop Governor Quinn from cutting the very budgets from crime intervention groups like CeaseFire who had successful Safety Zones in the Roseland
area right where Derrion was eventually killed. I was with Ronald Holt the other day and reminded him that we marched downtown at The State Of Illinois Building, and we made public appeals to The Governor NOT ti cut those Safety Zone funds in Roseland and other key areas where people would surely be hurt and exposed to greater violence if those workers were not maintained. Despite our public appeals, and the lack of stronger public support from our Black religious, civic, and political leaders, Governor Quinn made his cuts and the workers were gone, and then Derrion is now brutally beaten and killed right in one of the areas where Safety Zone workers were taken away!
I strongly believe that Derrion Albert would be alive today if those Safety Zone and Safe Passage workers had not been cut from the areas around Fenger High School and they would have been a sure deterrent as they had been previously been when students would pass those same blocks where assembled a year ago and Derrion killed. I find it somewhat offensive and insulting that many of the people who showed up at Derrion’s funeral, did NOT show up to help fight for the saving of the very program and workers that could have kept him alive! We have adjusted to this “after the fact” symbolic responses to the violence that claimed Derrion and those that have been shot and killed after Derrion. There I was again sitting in the audience with Ronald Holt and I shared with Holt again that I was offended again to attend the funeral of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV, and to see Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn attend and speak after Wortham’s death, BUT it was the SAME Mayor and Governors who City and State officials did NOT respond to the State Of Emergency Press Conference and public appeal that we organized with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr, Father Michael Pfleger, Wallace “Gator” Bradley and others had outside The Wortham home at Cole Park TWO WEEKS PRIOR to Wortham’s death asking for emergency resources because the young people told us about how there were plans to escalate the acts of violence at that Park.
Many of us stood there almost in tears as we listed to Alderman Fredrynna Lyle respond to reporters saying that no matter how much violence was escalating and the specific requests she made of city officials that the response was still that the City had absolutely no additional resources they could offer to answer of State of Emergency call. So it is an insult to see Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn come to Wortham’s funeral, and then to hear Alderman Lyle announce at the funeral that the things that Wortham fought for, and that we appealed for BEFORE Wortham’s death was now being given to the park AFTER his death. WHY do people have to tragically die before our officials decide they can now find resources after ones death versus finding them while they are alive and with them may have been able to stay alive.? As a media person, I see many of the press releases that come out from crime intervention and prevention groups who many programs and appeals for support do not get coverage, but when violence and death occurs in those exact same areas, now here comes the “team” media coverage. This is an absolutely insulting process that we have gotten adjusted to. There was no team media coverage of our protests to save the programs around Fenger prior to Derrion’s death, but plenty of coverage after he’s dead; no “team” media coverage of our Press conference at Cole Park with Rev. Jackson two weeks prior to Officer Wortham’s death, but plenty of coverage after his death.
Just yesterday, over a dozen Black owned small business owners and business associations representing hundreds of at-risk Black youth working under “Put Illinois To Work” held a press conference trying to generate public support to save thousands of at-risk youth workers whose jobs will end on September 30th and despite the looming deadline next week and the anxiety and desperation these workers are facing knowing what they are going to faced with after September 30th, NO mainstream coverage for Mainstream or Black media as well to help save their jobs — BUT when these at-risk youth are put back in the streets to survive and they end up in these life threatening street environments and hurt or killed, NOW he the media will come again, AFTER the fact, and not before the fact, and we have collectively adjusted to this type of reactive versus proactive responses. We only have worth in pain and suffering and not life!
While I did not hear the entire interview that Derrion Aldert’s mom was doing with Mark Konkul of The Sun Times but if I had to guess, he asked questions like the following; How are you coping with your son’s death a year later?; Do you miss your son?; Do you know any of the other moms whose children were killed?; THEN mainstream reporters find way of asking questions that always seem to make victims fit the stereotypes that led to their being victims of violence like these; Are you a single mother?; Was Derrion’s father in his life?; Are you fully employed or living on public aid?; Did your son know any gang members in school; Do you have other children growing up in these same negative elements? THESE type questions of parents of victims of violence get us absolutely no where is changing the desperate economic conditions that surround our Black and poor youth. Its been over 20 years and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr still asks the same unanswered question of “How Can The Same City, State and Federal Budgets Never Seem To Find $5-$7,000 a year to properly educate a student, BUT those same budgets can find $30-$60,000 a year to house you in jail?” Wouldn’t we drastically save the City, State, and Federal tax dollars by investing money in a proper education for our youth on the frontside of their lives versus so much more on the backside?
So, on this One Year Anniversary of the tragic death of young Derrion Albert, I say that Derrion should have never been killed a year ago, we should have fought harder to keep the workers and Safety Zone and Safe Passage programs in place that were there around Fenger to provide him and others with the safe passage to and from school before we allowed to be cut. On this One Year Anniversary of the death of Derrion Albert, nothing has changed. We are still in a “paralysis of analysis” mode of addressing violence. We still are in reaction mode and not enough proactive support. A year later, we still have far too many of our at-risk Black youth employed by the gang, drug, and other illegal street economies and not enough legitimate jobs and economic opportunities. A year later we still do not have the proper investment in jobs for our Black and poor youth, and we still suffer from budget cuts in the areas of crime intervention and prevention, and a year later we still have City, State, County, and Federal budgets that allocate more funds for incarceration than education. And finally to the mother of Derrion Albert, I hope that this time next year, a reporter is still not asking you if you have a job, but reporting on the job or successful small business that you own from the support of the thousands of people who rally “symbolically” in your sons name, but the “substance” of ensuring that you have the financial foundation you need, for in this business, you are only going to be as popular as the next tragedy. The last thing I was trying to talk to Derrion Alberts mom about was that I wanted to work with her and through Phillip Jackson and The Black Star Project to ensure that you have a job if you want one, and that she never end up the subject of the “Whatever Happened To” series of those victims of violence.
Just one man with one opinion. I want people to feel guilty for if many of them who rally in Derrion’s name today, had responded to the call to save the crime intervention workers jobs that patrolled Fenger, we be celebrating another year of Derrion’s LIFE and not the anniversary of his death.