The savage videotaped beating death of Chicago honor student Derrion Albert horrified people around the world. Grammy-nominated musician Nas was so outraged he posted an open letter exhorting teens to end the senseless bloodshed. CNN's Don Lemon spoke with Nas about why he wrote the letter, and whether violent lyrics in his own music might have played a role in creating a permissive culture of violence.
The mother of a young African-American honor student beaten to death in Chicago on Sept. 24 talks to CNN's Don Lemon about the tragedy, a sad statistic that has made the city one of the country's deadliest for young people. Two former convicts then share their perspectives on how to change the culture of violence that has taken hold in some communities.
What's behind the epidemic of teen killings in Chicago? CNN's Don Lemon and Senior Producer Annika Young went there to find out. They met with drug dealers blamed for much of the violence, listened to the heartbroken parents who have lost sons and daughters in the crossfire, and spoke to the community activists trying to end the bloodshed that has earned one Chicago neighborhood the nickname "Killer Town." In this special report: An unflinching look at a deeply troubling problem mirrored in communities across America, and proposed solutions that will require commitment, time, money and boundless energy.
School children have been dying in alarming numbers in Chicago, many of them from the city's South Side. CNN's Don Lemon sat down with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss possible solutions. Before being tapped by President Obama to head the Education Department, Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, so he brings a personal perspective to the issue.
From CNN Senior Producer Annika Young:
Ten. That's how many stab wounds my uncle had in his chest. He was killed January 18, 2008. He died being the kind of man we knew him to be, a hero. His three sisters and five nieces were heartbroken but not surprised to learn he died trying to stop a man from beating his girlfriend. That was Charles.
I'll always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard my grandmother's voice on the other end of the phone.
"Your Uncle Charles is dead."
I had the impossible task of breaking the news to my mother and sister. Nothing in the human experience prepares you for the trauma of losing a loved one suddenly and violently. It's a pain that paralyzes the body in such a unique way. It's hard to breathe.
The confusion of what you're hearing and what you're feeling are competing for control. It's physically unbearable.
We live with the uncertainty of life every day, but most of us expect to kiss, hug and talk to our loved ones just one more day than the one before. Never mind the fact that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. It's just how we think.
Ronald and Annette Nance-Holt, Kermit DeLashment Sr. and Michele DeLashment, Tommie and Pamela Bosley, and Maria Ramirez will never get to see their sons get married, have children, raise families, or accomplish the impossible because the unthinkable happened. Their sons were murdered.
None of them were the intended targets of an assassin's bullet. They were caught in the crossfire.
Don Lemon and I recently went to Chicago to report on this heartbreaking story. I met the parents of teenagers killed by gun violence. I sat in a corner, quietly listening with my notebook in lap, like always. Five minutes into "roll tape" I realized I didn't need a notebook. I remember ever story, ever tear, every emotion.
I watched mothers and fathers relive the phone call, the "little room" where chaplains are posted and doctors are delivering news no parent ever wants to hear. "I'm sorry. Your son has passed away."
Before my emotions could recover from what I'd experienced listening to grieving parents, we got word a 15-year-old girl was shot in a drive-by. Our cameras were barely powered down from an interview with a Chicago city official, a man charged with coming up with solutions to an out-of-control problem.
"Where in the hell am I?" I asked myself. Really, what hell on Earth can I file this under? When did a major U.S. city turn into a war zone? Why are children being cut down in rapid succession? Why is this the norm? Where are the guns coming from? Why have more than 260 people been shot dead this year alone in Chicago? Who dropped the ball? Why is life so meaningless to the very generation we hoped would help us preserve it?
I'm not naïve. I know shootings happen Everywhere, USA. But I'll start in Chicago, where no place is sacred, where people can be gunned down outside a church. We'll start where local basketball star, Kermit DeLashment Jr., made front-page news. Not for his jump shot, but for being the city of Chicago's 500th murder in 2008. We have to start there.
Too many cowards shoot and run, some never face justice, all of them need rehabilitating. I believe firmly that if you can change a mind, you can change the man. My hope is that by exposing the dark reality in Chicago and cities like it, we can shine a light on the underbelly of society, forcing them out of hiding.
I hope to implore parents to parent, for community leaders to lead, for brothers to be keepers. It's a lot of work but I think we can do it…one story at a time.
Editor Note: iReport Assignment
What's behind the gangs, shootings and murders in Chicago? As violence continues to spiral out of control, we want to hear your stories.
Have you been a victim of crime in Chicago? Do you have a solution?
Share your stories, pictures and video and they could be featured on a CNN Special Report. Don Lemon takes us to the heart of the problem - "Chicago's Deadly Streets" on Saturday, August 22, at 10 p.m.