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Top Obama administration officials pledge to help fight youth violence

Atty. Gen. Holder and Education Secretary Duncan visit a Chicago high school where a teen was beaten to death. They call the attack a wake-up call for the country and a call to action for government.

October 08, 2009|Associated Press

CHICAGO — Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday pledged federal support to fight a surge in youth violence in Chicago and other cities, calling the brutal beating death of a teenager on the city's South Side a wake-up call for the country.

But neither offered specifics or outlined any strategies on how the government would help quell the increase in the number of violent deaths among teens.

Duncan and Holder were sent to Chicago by President Obama to meet with officials, parents and students from Christian Fenger Academy High School after the beating death of a 16-year-old sophomore was captured on a cellphone video.

Holder said the disturbing images of the attack on Derrion Albert have been a wake-up call for the country and a call to action for the Obama administration.

"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 an American problem."

A study on youth violence funded by the Department of Justice and released Wednesday found that 60% of respondents had been exposed to violence in the last year, and nearly half had been assaulted at least once, Holder said. Exposure to violence included minor to serious incidents. The findings also appeared Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The Obama administration has asked for $25 million in next year's budget for community-based crime prevention programs, Holder said. Duncan said an emergency grant of about $500,000 would go to Fenger for counselors or other programs.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said the administration's high-profile involvement isn't "show and tell," but a genuine commitment to address youth violence.

Some Fenger students said they appreciated the visit from Duncan and Holder because it showed that the outside world cares about them.

But they said the power to stop the violence ultimately lies with them.

"It's up to us to make a change," said junior Shanequa Burgess, 17. "All of these adults are doing what they need to do to help us."

Derrion, an honor roll student, was attacked when he got caught up in a mob of teens about six blocks from school. The video shows him curled up on the sidewalk as teens kick him and hit him with splintered railroad ties.

So far, four teens have been charged in his death.

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