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 Photos by Adam Wren/MEDILL

Phillip Jackson, leader of the Black Star Project, opposes Duncan and Holder's plan to stem the tide of youth violence in Chicago.

Duncan, Holder call for national conversation on youth violence.

by Adam Wren
Oct 07, 2009



 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, dispatched to Chicago by President Barack Obama, said youth violence as witnessed at Fenger High School is a nationwide problem.



Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, joined by Mayor Richard M. Daley, share their plan to stem youth violence. 

 Adam Wren/MEDILL

Willie J.R. Fleming, a community activist protesting alongside Phillip Jackson, assails the plan laid out by Duncan and Holder.

America must engage in a national conversation to stem the tide of youth violence, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Wednesday, four days after a 16-year-old student was buried after he was fatally beaten.

Duncan, joined by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and flanked by Mayor Richard M. Daley at City Hall, said the nation must change the way it confronts youth violence.

“This is the time to look in the collective mirror and ask whether we like what we see or whether we can do better,” said Duncan, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Holder said the violent episode that claimed the life of Fenger High School junior Derrion Albert, who was caught in a bloody melee between rival groups from neighborhoods near the school last month, was not unique to Chicago.

“Youth violence is not a Chicago problem, any more than it is a black problem, a white problem or a Hispanic problem,” Holder said. “It is something that affects communities big and small, and people of all races and all colors. It is an American problem.”

The episode captured national media attention, which Duncan said should be a catalyst spurring students, parents, educators and policymakers to tackle youth violence.

“Seeing something on video seems to wake up this country,” Duncan said. “We should use this moment to go forward together. This is a fork in the road. This is a line in the sand, and we have get dramatically better.”

Dispatched by President Barack Obama, Duncan and Holder met with students from Fenger, school officials and community activists early Wednesday to begin that conversation, Duncan said.  He did not disclose where the meeting took place.

Outside the press conference, dozens of protesters hoisted placards as they gathered to assail Duncan and Holder for not visiting Fenger Wednesday morning. Duncan said they did not meet at the school to avoid a "circus."

“There was no circus,” said Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, who is championing his own anti-violence plan spearheaded by faith- and community-based organizations. “It was relatively calm. The question remains: Where were they? We have a plan for President Obama, and we wanted to share it with his officials. It has been ignored by President Obama.”

For his part, Duncan announced the U.S. Department of Education would award a $500,000 emergency grant to Fenger, which he said school officials could spend on providing students with mentors, counselors and programs necessary to restore the learning environment.

Holder said he has also requested $24 million in next year’s federal budget for community-based crime prevention programs such as Cease Fire and Project Safe Neighborhoods.

But the violence cannot be stemmed with money alone, Duncan added.

“We all know this is not about money,” Duncan said. “Money alone will never solve this problem. It’s much deeper than that. It’s about values, and it’s about who we are as a society.”