The president sent the Secretary of Education. Local preachers organized pray vigils. Communities are outraged as mothers are burying their children. Yet, students of Chicago Public Schools are still gripped in fear.
Instead of concentrating on academics, some Austin high school students spend their time worrying about their safety. I asked several students what is their greatest fear, and none mentioned the fear of not passing or graduating. Many mentioned fear of getting shot, stabbed or snatched.
“I am concerned about being snatched out of my house or being locked in someone’s basement,” said Shatoria, 18. “I’m scared I’ll be walking down the street and someone will just snatch me like they did that girl in the flier.”
She was referring to Yasmin Acree, the Austin student who has been missing since January 15, 2008. She was 15 years old at the time of her disappearance and attended Austin Polytechnical Academy, 231 N. Pine. Her family believes Yasmin was abducted from her bedroom in the basement of her home. Fliers with her picture, a plea for help in finding her, and an offer of $5,000 for information leading to her whereabouts are posted throughout the Austin High School campus on Pine Avenue, and the Austin community.
Seventeen-year-old Shasa said her greatest fear is of becoming a victim of mistaken identify. She also fears taking a bullet meant for someone else in a drive-by shooting.
“That’s how most people get killed,” she said. I’m scared I’ll be just walking down the street and a car will slow up and someone will start shooting. That’s why when I see a car moving slowly down the street, I duck behind a tree.”
“When I see a car going slow,” added 16-year-old Karen, “I start walking fast, and if the car starts moving fast with me, I’ll slow down or I’ll stop and pretend like I’m talking on the phone or waiting for someone to come out of the house.”
Avoiding drive-by shootings and abductions are not the only safety concerns for these teens. Avery, 17, is afraid of getting beaten up. “I’ll be walking down the street with my headphones on, and I’ll get a beat down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Another fear of the teens is getting stabbed, explained 18-year-old Nicole. “A lot of people I know got killed by being stabbed to death,” she said, noting that they were not all gang-related; some were just two people fighting after or during school.
I asked how students could get stabbed during school since there are metal detectors in the building they must past through – and with the lunch room only using plastic cutlery. Many of the students said there are ways to get a knife in. According to the kids, some students have mastered the art getting past the metal detector by dipping the knife in hair gel or hiding it in their boots. It was said that some wrap the knife in an aluminum foil package and say it’s their lunch. Others wrap knives in foil and hide it inside of a book.
Not all students’ fears are based on being harmed by a person. The biggest fear for Shatoria, 16, is being attacked by a dog.
“I don’t like dogs at all,” she said, adding that she also doesn’t like it when strangers walk up to her and start talking. “You don’t know what they have on them. They might have a knife on them, and I can get stabbed again.”
Shatoria has been stabbed twice, both times by her female cousin during a fight at home. “One time we were fighting, and she just picked up a knife and tried to stab me. She missed and ended up cutting me on my face. Another time she tried to stab me with a screw driver and cut me on the finger.”
Shatoria said she and her cousin fought often until her grandmother and mother intervened – they would insist that the girls make up and act like family. Shatoria said she eventually forgave her cousin for stabbing her, especially since she was able to get revenge by creating a concoction of foot cream, hand lotion and other toiletries for a face cream for her cousin.
“She used it, and her face broke out really bad,” Shatoria recalled. “Then I forgave her.”
While many students develop their survival skills, 17-year-old Cedric is unconcerned with fear for his safety, or any fear for that matter because he is “not afraid of anything.” “I’m not scared because being scared won’t help the situation. If it happens, it happens,” he said. “Being afraid or worrying is not going to stop them. There is nothing you can do to change it.”
Several of the students accused Cedric of being that way because of his “non-belief in God.”
“Yes, that’s true,” he revealed. “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in anything.”
The students’ fears, concerns and survival skills are very real in the world in which they live. Almost everyday, another young person loses his or her life in a senseless act of violence, either in route to, or from, a school. Many of the students feel they need protecting and that they can’t do it alone.
“The community needs to step up and do more,” one unidentified student said. “If they don’t, we all will die like dogs in the streets.”