Thursday, September 27, 2012


"Something's got to happen up in here," Sarah said.  "This is too much."

I was sitting at the security guard station at the front door because we needed all of our guards outside.  Some students from the school up the street had beef with our kids, you see, and had recently taken to showing up in groups, finding an isolated kid wearing our uniform, and jumping him.  But of course this kind of thing never stops. Our kid got jumped, then their kid got jumped, then it grew.

So.  We held our kids after dismissal, had a ton of adults on the street, and then one of our kids left the building, crossed the street too fast and got hit by a car. Completely unrelated. In the ensuing mess of ambulance and police, the other school showed up and new fights ensued.  So I was sitting at the security guard desk because we needed everybody outside.

So much was going on that there was no way I could keep track.  So I did what I always do when I want information: I asked Sarah.  She will be truthful.  I may not like her truth, but she will be honest.

She had theories.  They jumped us today because they had time to get out of school and wait for us up at the Walgreens.   "What we should do," she said, "is change our schedule so we can get up out of here earlier."

Why? I said.  So we could wait for them up at the Walgreens?  Violence begets violence, and then it escalates.

It was a conversation I'd had a hundred times before.  I'll probably have it a hundred more times.  It never stops.  We live in a war zone, I said.  The murder rate in Chicago is higher than it is in Kabul.

"I know," said Sarah.  "That's why we say Chi-raq.  Get it?  Chicago and Iraq.  Chi-raq."

Clever, I thought.  And I wanted to disagree.  This thing with fights in the streets was just another day at the office for me, to be honest.  It's happened before, and it'll happen again, and we will go out of our way to keep our kids safe.  It's what we do.  And then one day it will happen again and the cycle will continue.

I can sense that you, reader, are a little surprised by my blasé attitude.  Don't mistake me.  I'm worried.   I'm plotting ways to ensure that this situation deëscalates.  I don't want any more kids to get hurt.  I've seen enough kids get hurt, talked with too many cops.

It was just so hard for me to react today.  I was still reeling over what happened to Edgar.

Usually when I write this blog, I change the names of students for privacy, but today I will not, because it is important to me to state his name.  His name was Edgar, and I can already feel this blog getting away from me, because I hate that I am writing it about this kid.  Edgar.

Edgar, not the "20-year-old man who was fatally shot on the South Side" that the Tribune reduced him to.  That makes him just another statistic, and Chiraq's statistics aren't Edgar.

He was in my English class his sophomore year, and he was one of my favorite students. I always like the kids who constantly get in trouble best.  They're so wily, and I enjoy matching wits with them.

Edgar was no exception.  He was, in fact, one of the most brilliant minds I've ever had the pleasure to have in my classroom.  Brilliant, you say?  But he failed so many classes.  Yes, brilliant.  He failed classes because he skipped school so often, not because he wasn't smart enough.  I don't care what the debate was, he usually chose to argue the opposite of what everyone else was saying.  I never knew if he believed what he was saying, but he was always passionate about it.

But that was Edgar.  One day, I overheard him talking to his buddy.  Something was going down, and they were plotting.

I've got another idea, I told them.  How about you stay away from that?

"Don't worry, Miss B," they said.  "We don't bring that stuff to school."

That's not what I'm worried about, I said.  But he just laughed when I said they needed to keep themselves safe.

"That's not always possible," he said.

I never could convince him to watch out for his future.

That was the first thing I thought of last night when I heard what happened to him.  So of course I went looking for him on facebook.  I wanted to see if he still looked like I remembered. He did.  A few years older, but he was the same.  His profile picture showed him kissing a baby girl, his daughter.  I started clicking through his other photos.

I don't know if Edgar took this picture, or if he just thought it was cool.  Either way, I can't think of a single image that represents the lives of the children of our city better.  They grow up surrounded by this, and they forget how to be kids.

His name was Edgar.  He was flawed.  He was brilliant.  He is not another statistic.  I'm so tired of my kids turning into numbers.

In the past, when things were bad for me, I'd tell myself to buck up.  I'd think of places like Israel and remind myself that I didn't live in a place where bombs went off.  There aren't bodies in the streets, I'd tell myself.

But that was before Chicago turned into Chiraq.

I watch the news and see the candidates and none of them are talking about what's important.  To me, there is only one thing that is important: improving the lives of our children.  We can do better.  We must do better. We are Chicago.  We are not Chiraq.  And his name?  His name was Edgar.