- All Things Equal on the West Side
I once had a dream that went like this: I was in a long, dark hall-way lined with shadowed doorways on one side, giant, steam-fogged windows on the other, and a hard gray concrete floor, and I was running. I was running towards the darkness at the end of the hallway, and as I finally neared it I plowed into another man who was just emerging into the light. This man was a giant, muscled and bare-chested and (bizarrely) clad in red swimming shorts, and he was swinging a glinting meat cleaver at my throat.
The scene unfolded slowly. I had plenty of time to react, but didn’t know what to do: raise an arm, duck, move forward, step back? I saw the blade flashing towards me, and I was frozen—paralyzed by indecision. I was helpless in that moment, and that helplessness was terrifying.
And I know exactly where this dream’s anxiety had its origins—from an encounter I had in Chicago with a fifteen-year-old boy named DeAndre Hansley.
Accel Academy High School was then in its first year operating as a charter school within the Chicago Public Schools system. The school overflowed with iBooks and Mac desktops and projectors and all the latest classroom technology, but was also under-enrolled and under-staffed. It was housed in an elementary school building, as so many Chicago charter schools are, with the elementary school occupying most of the first floor. The building was three stories high, comprised of two hallways stacked over an office on the first floor.
Accel’s curriculum was innovative, as was the design of the school itself, which was broken into academies, each specializing in different academic areas. As this was the first year of the school, all of the students were by default enrolled in the Freshman Success Academy, which was itself divided into two houses, each house containing three sections, each section containing roughly fifteen students, who spent all day, every day, together. Three sections were located on the third floor of the building, the other three on the second floor, where I spent my time. I was a special education inclusion teacher. I worked with the students in section 922. I co-taught (sort of) their English and math classes.
Metal detectors were installed at the start of the second semester. Four security guards hiked the halls, keeping an eye on ninety-six students. Accel was located on the near West Side, in an area just adjacent to the neighborhood [End Page 143] recently ranked as the most dangerous in the country, with residents facing a one in four chance of being the victim of violent crime.
CHICAGO - Teen is shot, killed on the West Side. The boy, identified as Ramone Morris of the 4500 block of West Jackson Boulevard, was found shot to death in the 4400 block of West Adams Street. Authorities were called at 9:07 a.m.
Dewallis Harris believed that Morris owed him eighty dollars. Morris and Harris, 36, fought as the teenager walked his 14-year-old sister to school in West Garfield Park. The fight escalated, and prosecutors on Sunday said Harris shot Morris in the back of the head, killing him. “My baby was sixteen,” his mother, Rhonda Matthews, said in tears after Harris’s first court appearance Sunday.
Morris was enrolled at Crane Tech High School, making him the 35th CPS student killed in violence this year. Chicago is now the deadliest city for school-aged kids in America.
The “Chicago” piece above is an assemblage of information from various sources, but is factual, is as true as the daily news. I mention this simply because citing such a collage can be tricky, tricky but also true to life. News of violence—i.e., quick facts behind robberies and beatings and abuse and murder—is easy to find: “sixteen-year-old boy shot to death on West Side” (ChicagoBreakingNews.com. Chicago Tribune. Web. 06 May 2009). But this fifty-two-word summary exposé is only the beginning. Events like this haunt cities, neighborhoods, schools, students’ lives. Ramone...