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Honor student beaten to death: Can Chicago curb youth violence?

Derrion Albert was apparently caught in a brawl between two rival student groups as he walked home from Fenger High School. It’s not the city’s first such incident: In 2008, more than 30 students were killed.

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Nadashia Thomas, a cousin of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, looks at posters of him at Fenger High School in Chicago on Monday. A vigil for Derrion was planned at his school.

Nam Y. Huh / AP

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The melee that ensnared Chicago junior Derrion Albert last week wasn't an unusual occurrence in a neighborhood where tensions and gang violence often erupt, say residents.

But the fight left Derrion dead – apparently caught in the brawl between two rival student groups as he walked home from Fenger High School. This has brought renewed focus on a neighborhood and a city where youth violence is a longstanding problem.

"It gets attention when someone dies, but this is every day with us," says Kase Miles, who graduated from Fenger a year ago, pointing to a scar on his cheek that he says he received at school when someone attacked him from behind with brass knuckles. "It's getting worse.... But if he wouldn't have died, [the media] wouldn't be here."

Keeping students safe – especially as they walk to and from school – has become a challenge for Chicago schools and police. Since the academic year began three weeks ago, five Chicago children have been killed, says Phillip Jackson, founder of the Black Star Project, which is working to strengthen violence-stricken communities in Chicago. In 2008, more than 30 students were killed, according to the Associated Press, citing district figures.

"Schools by themselves can't fix the problem," Mr. Jackson says. "We have to get the community involved. Right now, the problem seems to be here at Fenger. Tomorrow, it will be another school."Instead of the money that has come from Washington to bolster police presence, Jackson would like to see funds for more counselors, after-school programs, and job creation.

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