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What Chicago Students Are Saying About Last Year's Police Shooting Of A Teen


A police video released in Chicago this week shows an officer shooting Laquan McDonald last year. For some teenagers in Chicago, the shooting stirs up deep emotions and raises many questions about race, their city and their country. For member station WBEZ in Chicago, reporter Linda Lutton brings us the thoughts of some students from a school on the city's West Side.

LINDA LUTTON, BYLINE: School leaders at North Lawndale College Prep say a lot of times kids don't pay much attention to current events. But everybody here knows the name Laquan McDonald, knows he was 17, knows that a Chicago police officer shot him 16 times.

JELA WALTON: I mean, I've always thought about these cases - Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown - all of them. I think what really got to me this time is the fact that it happened here. It happened at home.

LUTTON: Jela Walton is also 17.

WALTON: It could've literally been anyone. You walk down that one street, that's the same street that Laquan McDonald got killed on.

LUTTON: I'm talking to Walton and her classmates at school, where they've discussed both the shooting and tense relations with the police. Senior Tiyana Smith understands the protests.

TIYANA SMITH: If we don't protest, what are we going to do, just watch the video and don't do nothing? But my thing is protest in the right area. Go down to the police station, the police department, the courtrooms, where the justice is giving out. Can't nothing be done at the nearest gas station or Walgreens. You have to go down to the people who are going to be able to make the change.

LUTTON: This school is located in North Lawndale, a neighborhood still visibly scarred from riots 47 years ago after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Senior Alexus Starks says she feels conflicted about protests.

ALEXUS STARKS: I feel that if all black people start protesting, it's just going to make other races scared because they're already scared of us. They already see us as animals, savages. So it's basically like we hopeless to other people. But we know we've got hope in ourselves, but they just don't have hope in us. So there's really nothing we can do. Like, this evidence being released is not going to change anything. It's just, like, we non-factors to everybody.

LUTTON: We're non-factors to everybody. That's a teenage way of saying we don't matter in other people's eyes.

TINO GILMORE: My name is Tino Gilmore. I'm 17 years old.

LUTTON: Gilmore says videos documenting brutality against black people - that's been part of his growing up.

GILMORE: It has messed with my head a little bit as far as, like, who I am and what I stand - what I stand for in this country. And I don't see my future being with the country. I don't see me being with America because they don't want to be with me.

LUTTON: All these students are growing up in segregated Chicago neighborhoods at an all-black school. The founder of that school, John Horan, hears them talking with me. It reminds him of something in the Talmud.

JOHN HORAN: That says justice will only be achieved when those not injured by crime become as indignant as those who are injured by crime. And I think what you heard from the kids is, will anybody else be indignant about this other than black people? Kids are usually very idealistic and hopeful and you really - you really hear their pain.

LUTTON: Pain spoken by kids the same age, the same race, living in the same city as Laquan McDonald. For NPR News, I'm Linda Lutton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.