Harper High

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For the past two weeks, “This American Life” presented stories revolving around Harper High School in Chicago. Last year, 29 kids attending Harper were shot, 8 died. 29 shot, 8 died. We all remember vividly Newtown, Ct, the Aurora theatre murders, even Columbine so many years ago. Harper represents a more gradual mass murder, and one that deserves more attention that it will likely get. Honor student Hadiyah Pendleton made news by being gunned down a few weeks after the presidential inauguration she attended. But the news died down.  I suspect no one will hear about Harper after TAL moves on to its next topic (that topic: coincidences). So many of us were horrified by these stories, Newtown in particular, but what are we doing about it?

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TAL presented the Harper story as a collection of reports about the various students/faculty affected by the gun violence. One of those profoundly affected is Devonte, who accidentally shot and killed his 14 year old brother a year ago. The police were satisfied it was an accident, but his mother is less certain, and his sister no longer talks to him. He was transferred out of school after the shooting to avoid possible repercussions, but he returned the following year, where he remained haunted by his guilt and his grief. At the end of the story, he was caught by the police on an unrelated gun charge. He ran from the courtroom in fear of a possible 19 month sentence, and as of the publication of the story, his whereabouts are unknown.

One night, the school had an important football game and a dance, but a shooting in the neighborhood had the school on alert. Everyone knew there would be retaliation. Some kids were identified as potential targets and sent home early to minimize their danger. School officials considered canceling the events, but ultimately did not, even though more shots were fired (none hit targets). A police and security presence blanketed the important corners, and nothing happened.

Meanwhile, the kids would deify past victims, forming gangs named after certain students killed by other gangs. But what is most striking about these stories is the kids utter disregard for each other’s lives. They kill each other over girl problems, over slights, over imagined slights.  The kids were getting the guns from neighboring counties–Chicago has very strict gun control laws–via gun shows, straw purchases and donations from others who are, for one reason or the other, no longer using the guns

A social worker at Harper named Crystal Smith tells her kids, “You are somebody. You are important.” But while Ted Nugent threatens the President, while the NRA calls for arming teachers, nothing really happens. Is Crystal Smith wrong?


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About Robert Phillips

Robert Phillips is a Miami lawyer still deciding what he wants to do for a living. Once a lover of Pynchon, Pinter, and any other artist whose work he barely understood, he has since "come home" to genre fiction and fandom, where he truly belongs. He focuses most of his fan-attention on his wife Elena and his three little girls, who will one day be a female president, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and a supermodel/astrophysicist. (He's not sure which one will be which yet.)

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