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Nadashia Thomas, 6, a cousin of Derrion Albert, holds a sign beside a poster of Derrion Albert at Fe (AP)

Complicated Storytelling

by Lee Hill
Sep 30, 2009

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Lee Hill

As we discussed on today's program, the fatal beating of 16-year-old Derrion Albert by a mob of teenagers last week in Chicago has underscored the city's alarming rate of youth whose lives are being lost to violence. To place things in perspective, Albert is the third Chicago student to be murdered this school year, in addition to the 34 youngsters who didn't live to see the end of the last school year. Their lives were met with the same fate.

Albert was killed in the Roseland community on the city's south side. I was in that neighborhood, coincidentally, last summer and reported on this very issue. When we first arrived to the area, residents were still buzzing about Percy Rounds, a 15-year-old, who had been shot in the head and killed just a day earlier while sitting on his back porch. And I remember later that afternoon, as we wrapped-up our day in Roseland, being taken — along with fellow TMM producer Jasmine Garsd — to Percy's house by Bob Jackson, an anti-violence activist with the group CeaseFire (Jackson was on the program today). We decided to try talking to the family about the youngster's recent death. We thought the tragic example of Chicago's ongoing violence might help us tell a more complete story.

Let me just say, this is when the story became more than just an "angle." It became painfully real.

As journalists, our job is to tell you the story — the what, why, when, how and who of it all. Sometimes we do that from a glass-enclosed studio behind a microphone, sometimes as observers from our newsrooms with help from television monitors. Others of us do it in front of cameras in heavily lit (and powerfully air-conditioned) state-of-the-art studios.

But, I must say, there is something especially gripping that comes from, literally in this case, walking into the story.

When we pulled up to the home of Percy Rounds, my first thought was ... what could I possibly say to comfort this grieving family at the house where, less than 24 hours ago, this young man was very much alive? My second thought was,
and why on earth would they want to talk to, of all people, two reporters at a time like this?

I was nervous, but I said a quick prayer and began walking up to the house.

The front lawn of the modest residence was filled with people who came to console the family and who, obviously, had some connection to Percy. And there we were — strangers to just about everyone there — stopping by and actually having the nerve to want something from the bereaved.

It was, by far, one of the more challenging moments of my relatively young career.

Percy lived with his aunt and was killed at her home. As it turned out, she was more than willing to talk to us, as she fought back tears, about her nephew's murder.

But more importantly, it was clear that — above all else — she wanted the story of Percy Rounds to be told. For her, his loss was more than just the latest homicide on the block; it was more than just the latest story to generate the typical "it's a damn shame" community response. It was about a young life that was no more, a potential forever silenced as part of a much bigger problem. For us, as well as our audience, hearing from her humanized the story beyond the headline.

And so today, as we reported on the recent killing of Albert in that same community, we also touched on the fact that his beating — captured on videotape and posted to online — has generated an enormous amount of interest in the circumstances surrounding his death.

(WARNING: This link to a YouTube video shows a mob of young people in Chicago beating 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert to death. The footage is graphic and may not be appropriate for some viewers. YouTube requires those who want to watch the video to verify that they are at least 18 years of age.)

Now, there are some who take issue with what appears to be the photographer's decision to film the beating, rather than help the victim. There are also those who find fault with certain news organizations for deciding to air that footage; it's a matter of decency and respect for the deceased, critics say. Still, there are others, namely the Chicago police, who credit the video as the only known eyewitness to the crime, which, so far, has lead to the arrest of four suspects in Albert's death.

In today's conversation, we asked Bob Jackson, who has spoken with family members of the late teenager, what the family thinks about tape being shown.

Like Percy Round's aunt, Jackson says Derrion Albert's family just wants his story to be told.

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