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The Harper High story : Linda Lutton

WBEZ Chicago:  Linda Lutton’s original story that lead to the Harper High project for This American Life.
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‘This American Life’ Looks at a High School Marooned in Violence


One of the discussions that comes up every time there is a mass shooting at a suburban school or a movie theater is how underreported other, equally disturbing killings are — like the ones at urban high schools and in city neighborhoods. Those deaths don’t come in a single spasm, but instead are part of a chronic drip of bloodshed, day in and day out.

Harper High School is that kind of place. It’s located in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, where gun violence has become endemic and seemingly unstoppable. At Harper, 29 current or former students were shot during the last school year; eight of them died.

The school itself is a relatively safe place, but the beefs and fights in the neighborhood around it frequently mushroom into gunplay. On Friday, President Obama is traveling to Chicago and is expected to talk, in part, about gun violence and the city’s rising homicide rate. Chicago’s murder problem hit the national media’s radar screen in a big way after the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot in a Chicago park about a mile from the president’s home just days after she had performed with her high school band during the inauguration in Washington.

But what is really to be said or done about an ecosystem of poverty, crime and hopelessness that has turned the Englewood neighborhood into a kill zone for the students who attend Harper?

“This American Life” is taking on that story in a two-part series that begins this weekend. School administrators gave access to three reporters for a full semester this school year, to explore the aftermath of last year’s violence as well as the current level of danger.

The project at “This American Life,” a news and storytelling radio show produced by Chicago Public Media and distributed by Public Radio International, grew out of story done by Linda Lutton, an education reporter for WBEZ radio last year. She returns as part of the reporting team for a longer look. Alex Kotlowitz, the author of nonfiction books including “There Are No Children Here,” and the producer of “The Interrupters,” a documentary about former gang members trying to prevent further violence, also reported for the series, as did Ben Calhoun, a producer for “This American Life” and a former reporter for WBEZ.

As it turns out, there is still plenty to learn about this brutal, if common, story. “Everybody hears these numbers and I think people are a little fatigued with this kind of story,” said Ira Glass, the program’s host and a former education reporter in Chicago. “We have this burden of trying to come up a story that they have not heard, which is the story of the people who are fighting back in a very real way, and I think radio is intimate enough so you can hear that and feel something about it.”

More from David Carr’s column:

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