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Top 9 Of '09 - No. 5: The Beating Death Of Derrion Albert

By Marcus Gilmer in Miscellaneous on Dec 29, 2009 10:30PM

This week, we're counting down the top 9 stories of 2009 according to the Chicagoist staff.

As the Anthony Abbate case finally saw resolution, it was an even more jarring, more violent video that in 2009 was seared into our memories as indicative of the city's continued cycle of violence. The September beating death of Derrion Albert will stick with all of us who saw it for a long time. Derrion was a 16 year old Fenger High School student caught in the wrong place in the wrong time, caught in the middle of a brawl that turned fatal when he was beaten to death with a two-by-four. A few days after the beating, Fox 32 obtained video of the beating and aired it, leading it to be circulated on newscasts around the world and led to Fox defending its decision to obtain and air the tape. The above video shows unspeakable acts of mob violence that, it seems, were common place at Fenger and in other areas of the city which many of us rarely pay attention to except when something as horrific as Derrion's death occurs.

It brought to light the issues going on at Fenger High as a recent school closing forced together two groups of students: students already at Fenger High and students being bused in from Altgeld Gardens, violence that had been ongoing but hadn't caught the attention of the city as a whole until Derrion's death. In the wake of his death, there was actually action: the CPS is planning to allow some students to attend Carver Military Academy (the academy that replaced the closed Carver High School which students in Altgeld Gardens had previously attended), a judge gave the okay for students to transfer away from Fenger, and Ceasefire got involved. There have also been bigger picture efforts to improve the community. But Albert's death had an even larger impact beyond the community. It was also a visceral reminder of the youth violence that plagues the city; through October of this year 47 CPS students had been killed by acts of violence, a trend that put it ahead of other major cities in the rate of teenage homicides per 100,000. (So far in the 2009-2010 school year, the Trib reports 16 students murdered.)

Beyond students, violence in Chicago remains in a certain stasis. Last week, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis trumpeted a drop in homicides over last year. Through Christmas Eve, there were 450 murders compared to 504 murders through Christmas Eve in 2008 (there would be 511 total homicides in '08), a drop of 10 percent. And it is a drop from last year's spike and homicides overall continue to trend downward since the city's violent peak in the early '90s. But it's more of a leveling off rather than any real cut in homicides. The drop in murders was also undermined by a four percent drop in the clearance rate.

Other high profile killings this year included the shooting death of Chicago Police Officer Alexandro "Alex" Valadez and the death of youngster Jahmeshia Conner whose death brought to light holes in the CPD's process of notifying the public of missing persons.

Previously: No. 9 - Abbate Case Resolved; No. 8 - Rick Bayless Goes Supernova; No. 7 - Oprah, Oprah, Oprah; No. 6: Should We Talk About The Media?