CHICAGO – Twenty desks – enough to fill a classroom – sat empty in a downtown plaza Tuesday, each bearing a pair of sneakers and representing a Chicago Public Schools student killed by gunfire this school year.
Several hundred more sat empty in city schools, as busloads of teens skipped classes to attend a gun-control rally – their absences sanctioned by the district, whose CEO says he’s angry that too many students talk about “if” they grow up, instead of “when.”
“This doesn’t happen in other countries,” Arne Duncan said. “We just value our right to bear arms more than we value our children, and our priorities are fundamentally backwards.”
Since September, 20 students in the nation’s third-largest school district have died in shootings.
The most recent fatality involved an 18-year-old killed in a high school parking lot last weekend. That school, Simeon Career Academy, sent 10 busloads of students to the rally at the James R. Thompson Center, which houses state offices.
Students from three other high schools participated. Several families whose children have died recently in gun violence also attended the rally, as did Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Chaqueta Clifton, 16, wore a button on her pink jacket reading “Stop Killing People.” She said her father was killed in a robbery when she was 7.
She said the recent deaths of CPS students have made her “kind of paranoid.” She tries to be hyperaware of her surroundings, and stays clear of any fights that break out nearby, saying some of the shootings have been the result of petty arguments that started out as “nothing.”
“It makes me angry, and sad, and I just want to do something about it,” she said.