'You know they're coming for somebody from ABLA'


'OPERATION SAFE PASSAGE' | Parents keep kids home, fearing retaliation -- so cops will escort them


March 18, 2008



"You got one of ours. We're gonna get one of yours."


That reality of gang life has kept nearly 200 Crane High School students from the ABLA Homes out of school since March 7, when a reputed gang member from ABLA gunned down another student who lived in rival gang territory. Their parents refuse to send them.


"You know they're coming for somebody from ABLA, and it doesn't have to be a gang member," said a 16-year-old girl, a junior who was afraid to be identified.


So officials have come up with "Operation Safe Passage," an unprecedented plan to protect students who fear they may be the next target.


Police to watch over buses


When spring break ends next week, Crane students from ABLA -- also known as "the Village" -- will gather at one central location each morning. CTA buses will pick them up after they've walked en masse to the bus stop.


Then a Chicago Police escort will follow the buses to a transfer point, where under the watchful eyes of even more officers, they will board second buses to Crane at 2245 W. Jackson . They will enter the school under police watch.


"On their way home, it will be vice versa," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).


Fioretti was among the officials who met last Tuesday to negotiate the plan after it became clear that ABLA students were not going to return to school until they felt safe. ABLA parents had called the school, police, their alderman. They said generations of gang violence had taught them what was coming.


Crane principal Richard Smith will present the plan to ABLA parents this week at the home of Delilah Smith -- the mother of 15-year-old Devonte Smith, who is accused of killing 18-year-old student Ruben Ivy outside Crane on March 7.


"We have no peace of mind as long as the kids at ABLA are scared to come to school," he said.


Extra police and security measures are already a matter of routine at Crane because of the entrenched conflicts.


Ivy, a junior, was from Rockwell Gardens , long a stronghold of the Traveling Vice Lords. Devonte's home in ABLA is New Breeds turf. The school also draws kids from Henry Horner public housing -- home to factions of the Black Disciples and Four Corner Hustlers -- and from the private St. Stephen's Terrace, considered Vice Lords turf.


Crane's detailed external security plan already includes blockades that divert all traffic but buses from in front of the school; CTA buses at the school waiting for students as they exit; school security guards at each bus stop and Crane staffers on every corner; 10 to 14 police squad cars that bring 20 to 27 officers each day to surround the school, and five police cameras within a block.


Devonte's mother, who grew up in ABLA and is raising her four children there, believes her son is innocent but knows the gangs won't stop to ask.


Her son was been put in isolation at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, where he is being held without bond, after a group of about 15 residents tried to attack him, his lawyer said.


"This is not just affecting my family. It's affecting my whole community," Smith said recently while preparing to visit her son.


"There's a lot of kids from ABLA who are saddened about the events that took place, and they feel in danger for themselves," she said. "If they're from here, it's automatically going to be thought that they're a New Breed. And it's not just kids at Crane. The community has asked for extra police around our elementary schools because we don't know if someone is going to retaliate."


'We've gotta get together'


Ruben Ivy's mother shares Smith's despair over the situation.


"It's just so much violence, and all of it really for nothing," Emily Green said after spending an afternoon last week picking out her son's funeral outfit and getting his hair braided.


"All these communities have got to come together, if we don't want nothing like this to happen again. We've gotta get together, and we've gotta have peace. I'm just praying so hard and leaving it in God's hands."