“We live in a city of Capulets and Montagues. We can either tell the truth about that or not, and in this case, GDs and Vice Lords. That’s our Capulets and Montagues.”
— Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union boss
Next fall, Old Town kids at Manierre Elementary might have to walk four blocks to Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts in River North.
It’s about nine minutes on foot — past the Dominick’s, across Division Street and through Seward Park to their new school.
That might not sound like a big deal — but it is.
In that part of town — where the notoriously gang-infested Cabrini Green towers have been torn down and replaced with an urban farm and an increasing number of condos — warring gangs battle over drug turf and hold long-standing grudges in the slowly gentrifying 'hood.
“We’re dealing with a generational curse,” Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said. “Some of these kids' parents were killed by other kids' parents. That’s the real stuff in that neighborhood.”
If Chicago Public School officials follow through with their plan to close Manierre, kids from a section of Old Town controlled by the Black P Stones and Conservative Vice Lords will be forced to cross Division Street into Gangster Disciples turf to attend Jenner.
And that’s a dangerous situation already.
“Kids don’t get along. The ones from Manierre can’t even cross the street. Every time they go over to Seward Park on the Jenner side they get beat up,” Burnett said. “You’ve got grandparents and parents who’ve got all this revenge stuff simmering, and it lives on with the kids.”
Earlier this year Burnett partnered with the Near North Unity Program to put on a basketball league that he hoped would “heal wounds and bring people together to enjoy the park,” but it had to be canceled because parents got in a brawl.
A lot of people are afraid that kids from Manierre won’t be safe going to Jenner if CPS brass moves forward with its plan.
“I’m concerned about the kids' safety, too,” Burnett said. “If I lived there I wouldn’t let my kid go to that other school. It’s not about if a kid is a gangbanger or not. It’s about if they come from that community, that area. Then they’re considered affiliated.”
Burnett said CPS must have a plan to create safe passage to and from school and add security to keep students safe, or well, kids will be in danger.
“It’s something they have to start working on now, over the summer,” he said. “You can’t wait for the first day of school. It will be too late.”
And the kids who might be headed Jenner School aren't alone.
Living in certain parts of Chicago — as Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis said Thursday — has become something of a Shakespearean tragedy where GDs and Vice Lords are our Capulets and Montagues. Crossing into enemy territory can be deadly.
Down in Englewood, kids attending Earle Elementary are slated to attend class next year four blocks away at Goodlow Magnet School, which is slated to close.
The short stroll from Earle to Goodlow — a straight shot down 62nd Street — starts in Mickey Cobra street gang turf, crosses into Black P Stone territory until you reach the heart of Conservative Vice Lord land.
I wouldn’t take that walk wearing a bulletproof vest. But a lot of those kids won’t have a choice.
“Look, we know this is going to happen. We’re going to deal with it, and we are going to squash any problems before the get started,” Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) said. “I’ve got dedicated principals, a dedicated police commander who’s responsive and gives us everything we need. We will have safe passage for our kids — someone on every corner. … At the end of the day it’s all about the kids being safe.”
Frankly, Chicagoans have heard that before.
In 2006, Mayor Richard Daley’s “Renaissance Initiative” that merged troubled high schools led to a surge in violence that activists blamed on the school system’s disregard for cultural differences, gang affiliations and student safety in an effort to save money.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the system has “learned from past mistakes” and has made the safety of students a “top of the plan priority.”
“We’re not pretending to know every situation at every school from [headquarters],” she said. “We’re partnering with police and people on the ground who have expertise about neighborhoods and what situations are day-to-day to make customized safety plans for every welcoming school,” Carroll said.
CPS has budgeted $7 million to hire more private security to man street corners to make sure kids get to and from school safely.
Let’s hope that’s enough to protect kids living in our most tragic neighborhoods.
Only time will tell in fair Chicago, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where the blood of innocents has made us all unclean.