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A torch for Derrion Albert

by Roger Ebert

Need we mourn that Chicago has lost its bid to host the Olympics? Yes, but not for too long. We are still Chicago, and that is a mighty consolation.

Watching the Beijing Olympics on TV, I hoped that my city would win the opportunity to show off to the world like that. My conceptions about China were fundamentally altered. I know that for too many people Chicago is known for gangsters and "machine politics." There is truth in every cliche, but as I drive or walk around this glorious city, it strikes me every day how beautiful, flower-filled, towering and happy a place it is.

Yes, we have our share of heartbreak. The death of Derrion Albert inspires a cry of shame! that every student in Chicago cannot be certain of returning home safely. His beating is the Chicago image that has gone around the world, and not beauty shots of our skyline and lakefront.

We have lost the Olympics bid. Perhaps this is our opportunity to win Derrion Albert's bid. He was an honor student, not a gang member, not a drop out. He was murdered by a crowd of thugs. More generally, he was murdered by a system that has failed our neighborhoods, our schools, and our children.

We were prepared to raise millions to prepare the city for the Olympics. Without missing a beat, we should devote our money and energy to preparing the city for a new generation of Derrion Alberts.

This will not require new "infrastructure" and all the delay and bureaucracy and waste that often implies. It will require immediate investment in a resource we have in abundant supply: Human beings.

We need to enforce safety, order and civility in our streets and schools, and I hope we act quickly. We need more police, more crossing guards armed with cell phones. We need more teachers, and smaller classes. We need higher teacher salaries. In this time of economic desperation, that will draw strong new candidates to join our overworked teachers, and reward those who fight in the trenches.

We need separate schools for congenital troublemakers. I agree with the teacher's union that such students should be transferred quickly, not after months of delay. I trust school administrators and staffs to be fair in choosing students deserving a transfer. The Second Chance Adademies they are transferred to must be well-staffed, high-security, and no-nonsense. They should also be real schools, not holding pens.

In neighborhoods plagued by gangs or feuding cliques of teenagers, we need to enlist adults to monitor the sidewalks their windows overlook, and call a special number immediately when they see trouble.

Where will we find the money to make the city safe for Derrion Albert? We will make that our top priority. Other funding will have to be put in hold. It will hurt. It must be done. Mayor Daley can do it.

By 2016, when the Olympic torch burns elsewhere, can our torch for Derrion Albert also burn? It will be brighter, and cast its light longer, and it will also, as the Olympics were said to, provide benefits for all Chicagoans.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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