By Lester Holt Anchor
msnbc.com
updated 8/15/2010 1:50:28 PM ET 2010-08-15T17:50:28
TRANSCRIPT

This broadcast airs August 15, 7 p.m./6 C. The full hour will not be available online. You can check out the Web-extra video below.

Organizations featured in the report
Lester Holt: Hard to explain violence

CHICAGO — When you're talking all-American, it's hard to one-up the Windy City, with its sparkling lake, family-friendly neighborhoods and comfortable streets. But there is another Chicago…one that drew national attention last year for all the wrong reasons.

It was this video of students beating a classmate to death that shocked the country and shamed a city.  Since then, Chicago's South and West Sides have become ground zero for an all-American problem:  Kids killing kids.

22 people shot...7 killed over a 12-hour period.

4 men were shot near 66th and Marshfield...

...In less than 6 hours, 15 people were shot at 8 different locations across the city, the victims all being between 14 and 21-years-old.

Looks like a gang fight done broke out...

Tonight...

That ain't nothing, I’ll tell you what, you can fight me.

Award-winning filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud take you through Chicago's toughest streets, where children grow up quickly and often die too soon.

MAN AT RALLY: 24 students have been killed. That's worse than Iraq, that's worse than Afghanistan...

RON HOLT: He was gonna' be somebody.

Meet the grieving parents, who blame their loss on gangs and guns…

ANNETTE HOLT: He was a great kid. It's like all the good kids are leaving, you know. The gangbangers are making it and our kids are dying.

The school and police officials determined to stop kids from hurting each other...and the communities, including the unlikeliest of heroes…

MAN: 18, my best friend got killed. Don't think cause y’all kids it won't happen to you.

…trying to save these young people of Chicago from themselves.

RON HOLT: That was our house. It's a concrete slab back there. And that's where I taught Blair how to play basketball. Sometimes after school, I’d come home and there was Blair in the backyard, still playing basketball. 

ANNETTE HOLT: You tell your kids, 'Do this. Don't do this. Do that. Do good. Do the right thing.’ He did the right things. 

Ron and Annette Holt – no relation to me – were proud to raise their son Blair in Chicago, a city they've lived in and loved all their lives. He's a 19-year-veteran of the Police Department; she's a Fire Captain.

LESTER HOLT: Did you ever come home and say, ‘Blair, let me tell you what I saw today –‘

ANNETTE HOLT: Yes.

LESTER HOLT: ‘–let me tell you what I saw today and here's why this is not going to happen to you?’

Though they divorced years ago, they say they worked as a team, helping their son navigate the pitfalls of growing up in Chicago. As a police officer, Ron knew just how treacherous this city could be for innocents, like Blair.

RON HOLT: If I worked at night and I knew that he and his mom was at home, if I was dealing with a kid that had been shot or killed – I would literally come into the back door, go into his room. He would always fall asleep with the television on. I would always—I—I would always rub his head [crying] and say, ‘My kid is okay.’ I would sit there and rub his head and say, 'My kid is okay.'

ANNETTE HOLT: He was just so great, you know. Only a mother can say that. But he was.

RON HOLT: Blair was extremely charismatic and popular.

LESTER HOLT: And he knew what college he wanted to go to?

ANNETTE HOLT: He already knew he wanted to go to Clark Atlanta. That was already a done deal. There was no way he wasn't going there.

And no reason to suspect he wouldn't make it. But then, they didn't count on this. Their 16-year-old son Blair, on a city bus on May 10, 2007…That's him in the middle in a white shirt, on his way home from school with friends...

RON HOLT: You talk about a crowded bus, and the kids not knowing what's about to happen to them. 

As the bus comes to a stop, security cameras catch another 16-year-old, named Michael Pace, rushing aboard. He pulls out a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun and opens fire. One of the bullets hits Blair Holt. You can see him scooting across the floor of the bus, in obvious pain. He'd been hit in the stomach. Blair was rushed to the hospital. 

ANNETTE HOLT: I remember just praying to God, 'God, please just let him live.' I said, 'God, I don't care what. I will take care of him. Quit my job. I just need Blair to live.'

But Blair's injuries were too catastrophic for doctors to repair. Hours later, they pronounced the 16-year-old dead.

RON HOLT: It was the worst God-awful experience in life for anyone to have to go through. Why us? Why our child? Why did this have to happen to our child? And it didn't have to happen. It didn't.

Yet it would keep on happening, with child after child shot on this city's South and West sides. And the rest of the world might never have noticed had it not been for another 16-year-old boy, likeBlair, just trying to make his way home from school one day. His brutal death would prompt outrage – but would it also lead to change?

Part 2

Ron and Annette Holt laid their 16-year-old son Blair to rest in May 2007. Two years later, Blair's killer was convicted of the murder...

LESTER HOLT: Tell me about the shooter.

RON HOLT: From what I was made to understand this kid had been in this gang in the neighborhood, being misguided and being misdirected, looking to shoot another gang banger on the bus.

To the Holts – and many worried parents here – Chicago's violence boils down to one word:  Gangs.   Police say roughly 75 gangs – with more than 100,000 members – make Chicago's South and West Sides among the deadliest places in the country for kids. Consider this: In 2009, Chicago lost 63 kids between the ages of 9 and 18 to violence. New York, with three-times the population, lost 46. 

Ron and Annette Holt are determined to help save Chicago's young. They've been holding rallies, like this, urging legislators to get firearms out of the hands of minors.

RON HOLT: If you live in a community where you've seen the carnage day in and day out, and you have known someone who you have lost, you have to stand up, stand out, move forward. You cannot back down.

LESTER HOLT: You two have found such strong voices in the midst of this tragedy.

ANNETTE HOLT: We actually reach out to other parents like us. We've even helped families find cemeteries that were affordable where they could bury their children. I've had mothers call me and say 'Hey, I just need to talk.' Or they text me and I text back and say 'Hold on, you can do it.'

And whenever he can, Ron meets with high school kids – many who've seen classmates gunned down.

Organizations featured in the report
Lester Holt: Hard to explain violence

RON HOLT: '08, we had 510 gun related homicides. How many of those 510 do you think occurred in the black community in Chicago?

STUDENT: Like, 400. Probably like 400.

RON HOLT: 369. 75 percent of your young brothers have been laid down by your young brothers. The individual that took my son's life is serving 100 years. You have to begin to raise your level of expectations and begin to value yourselves  

RON HOLT: I think a lot of them have been psychologically damaged and brainwashed if you ask me, with the glamorization of guns in America. But if we can reach one and convince him to change the error of his ways, then we've done well.

His optimism, though, is always being tested. Like when this video, taken on September 24th, 2009, went viral on the Internet…

The now infamous clip shows students from Fenger High in a fight, about a half-mile from their school.  As some kids pick up 2x4s, one boy in red takes a board from another and smashes it over the head of classmate, Derrion Albert. As Derrion tries to get up, he is punched in the face, then kicked repeatedly.  He died from his injuries.

NEWS ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a beating death that was caught on camera and has shocked even many veterans of law enforcement.

The video of Derrion's beating immediately went viral on the Internet. Suddenly, a city's problem with violent kids was national news.

When Ron Holt heard about Derrion, he knew he had to call the boy's grandfather. Joe Walker, had been raising Derrion.

RON HOLT: I had a chance to talk with his grandfather, Joseph walker. And he picked up the phone and said, 'Brother Holt, I was waiting for you to call me.’ I says, ‘Let’s talk, because I know you want to talk about it. I know you’re angry, I know you’re bitter,’ and then the floodgates just opened

JOE WALKER: He was sitting at this desk the night before he got killed. He was sitting right here

RON HOLT: What was he doing?

JOE WALKER: On his computer. And that was the last conversation we had, other than him leaving out the house that morning.

RON HOLT: I went through the same thing with Blair the night before.

JOE WALKER: Birth to death. A reality that we have to deal with right now. 

Joe Walker can still pick through old photos of his grandson. But he cannot bring himself to look at that last image.

LESTER HOLT: You've not seen that video?

JOE WALKER: Never in my life.

LESTER HOLT: But you know what's on it?

JOE WALKER: A lot of people ask me how do I feel about the people, that—that gives me some type of comfort, the fact that it woke up the world. Derrion, my grandson's death, woke up the world, woke up the nation. People saw that video and were mad. They were mad.

In fact, Derrion's death didn't just galvanize the people of Chicago... It also caught the attention of the nation's political elite. In the wake of Derrion's murder, President Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to Chicago with promises of federal resources to address the violence.

ERIC HOLDER: For me, and for this administration, it was a call to action, to address a challenge that affects this entire nation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mayor Daley, Obama, come handle what's going on in your city.

But many here are wary of political promises. They say good intentions on the part of City Hall have only made a bad situation worse.

Part 3

From the helicopters overhead, to the squad cars below, it's clear this is a neighborhood in crisis. But there's no bank hold-up or police standoff here. It's just another end of the school day at Fenger High on Chicago's South side.

Police are here not because of what happenedinsideFenger, but in the neighborhood nearby. A memorial still marks the spot where Fenger student Derrion Albert was beaten to death almost a year ago. Five teens have been charged with his murder. 

After Derrion's death, parents swarmed the high school, demanding answers.

PARENT 1: I want my kids out of here. I want my kids out of that school!

PARENT 2: What did you do to prevent it? Why didn't you answer the calls? What was your prevention plan?

PROTESTORS: Hey hey, ho ho, Mayor Daley's got to go!

And the target of their anger wasn't just Fenger High, but city hall and a controversial program that doomed some neighborhood schools. The plan's name: Renaissance 2010.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You have to deal with the fact that Renaissance 2010 forced these children into harm's way.

Renaissance 2010 is a school reform plan, the brainchild of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. His goal has been to raise academic performance citywide, in part, by closing failing schools.

MAYOR DALEY: If there is lack of performance, if lack of performance is happening in the school, you keep a school like that going, someone has to make the decision

One of those shuttered schools was in the community of Altgeld Gardens. It was turned into a military academy, and Altgeld had to bus its public school students to Fenger High, miles away. Some see the move as the only way to give kids a better education...immediately.

PARENTS: We are demanding that our children go back to Altgeld Gardens.

But many parents say the closing has been a disaster, forcing too many kids from rival neighborhoods and gangs to mix under the same roof. No surprise, they say, when tempers finally exploded in that afternoon fight that killed Derrion Albert.

LESTER HOLT: Derrion's name has been taken by some as an example of what's wrong with Renaissance 2010. What do you say to that?

JOE WALKER: You know what, Mr. Holt? I'm going to be honest with you. I'm not pointing fingers, but it could have been avoided. They knew the situation. Everybody knew what was going on, Mr. Holt. Everybody knew what was happening at Fenger High School and Altgeld Gardens. It was no secret. It was the talk of the whole South side.

LESTER HOLT: And what was the talk?

JOE WALKER: The rivalry, the gang rivalry. About the kids. They can't get home safely. When they ride the bus, they throw bricks at them. This is every other day.

LESTER HOLT: You're talking about kids crossing gang territories.

ANNETTE HOLT: Right.

LESTER HOLT: When you’re making decisions to close schools or realign schools, or transfer kids, do you have to take that into consideration?

ANNETTE HOLT: You should, you should.

The decision to bus kids from Altgeld to Fenger also troubles Ron and Annette Holt.

ANNETTE HOLT: I think if they would let those kids stay there, maybe it might not have happened. I say maybe. We can't say because your best efforts can still end up null.

RON HUBERMAN: It's not an easy process, and we do it knowing the confrontation that we are going to face.

And the man who has had to face the criticism – and the angry crowds – is Ron Huberman. He's the city's head of public schools and the mayor's point man on school reform.

LESTER HOLT: Did you take into account the fact that, by closing certain schools, kids would have to go to neighborhoods that they previously hadn't been to and, perhaps, cross gang lines and, perhaps, put themselves in more risk? Was that taken into account?

RON HUBERMAN: I believe that was taken into account... but there is a big difference between making those decisions and beginning to draw boundaries based on gang boundaries. That would be a terrible mistake, I believe.

He also says the argument that Renaissance 2010 somehow led to Derrion's death is based on fiction, not fact. 

RON HUBERMAN: If you look at Fenger High School, which is the school that Derrion Albert attended, it is one of our highest growing schools in terms of academic achievement and improvement. The level of violence today is substantially less than it has historically been, and so, I would say that these efforts are helping to reduce the violence… So what you are seeing here, as of the 20th of May, this exact day last year, we had 227 students shot. As of today, that number is 188.

Even though Ron Huberman does not believe that Renaissance 2010 led to Derrion Albert's death, or an increase in violence, he insists student safety is still a top priority

RON HUBERMAN: This is a particular school where there was a conflict that broke out just recently between a group of students.

Huberman points out that none of the shootings happened on school property, but on nearby streets and surrounding areas. Even so, the Chicago Public School system will spend $30 million dollars this year on anti-violence initiatives, which include this recently created student safety center. It allows security officers to monitor the halls, the classrooms and even the streets around the schools – often fertile ground for violence.

RON HUBERMAN: One student hurt is one student too many. Every kid matters, every life matters. We need to see these numbers go down and success will be defined by when they are down.

LESTER HOLT: So no victory lap now just because the numbers are down.

RON HUBERMAN: There's no victory lap here.

But, for some, the new security plans come too late to be of much use.

DANNY GILMORE: This is the bullet hole, that um, paralyzed me.

Part 4

REVEREND HOOD: Okay, you got shot in the back and it's right here...

Robert Nixon was a high school freshman when he became one of 218 students shot in Chicago during the past school year.

REVEREND HOOD: Can you kind of tell us how it came to you getting shot? We want to help.

The Reverend Robin Hood works with an organization called Ceasefire. Anytime there is a shooting that seems gang related, the group tries to intervene to prevent retaliation shootings. 

ROBERT NIXON: They pulled out a gun, and I tried to run back to school and they shot me. And that's when I blacked out.

And now Robert's mother is blaming herself. She always drove him to and from school. Except on one day ...

ROBERT’S MOM: I took him to school for safety purposes, and all I had to do was just pick him up at the door, all I had to do was just like I always do: Just be there for him when he walked out the door, sir.  And it happened.

REVEREND HOOD: This is a war for gangs and turf, and it's something that is just overwhelming in all the schools.

Robert is expected to make a full recovery. But some young victims have had their lives forever altered by the violence.

COMPUTER DVD: Parents are encouraged to participate in therapy with their children, so they can learn how to continue to support their child's progress at home between visits.

DANNY’S GRANDMOTHER: I’m trying to see what kind of activities they have to help. What do you want Danny?

DANNY GILMORE: To be able to walk again.

The last time 14-year-old Danny Gilmore did that, he was on his way to school. It was April, and he was just coming out of a convenience store when someone opened fire. He was hit at least 3 times. Police said he was most likely an innocent victim of a gang feud.

His doctor, Lisa Thornton, later gave a frank assessment of Danny's prognosis.

LISA THORNTON: It's very unlikely that his legs will start to move again. His life will be in a wheelchair.  We see too many cases of violence in Chicago, of young people who are in the prime of their life, who become permanently paralyzed from violence.  It is devastating.

Since the shooting, Danny's grandmother is constantly at his side, and the hospital has assigned him a mentor, another victim of gun violence, to help him through his ordeal.

MENTOR: It's okay to feel the way that you do, don't think that you're wrong. You're young, you got your life ahead of you.

DANNY’S GRANDMOTHER: When he gets stubborn he just sits in one spot and don't want to move.

Organizations featured in the report
Lester Holt: Hard to explain violence

MENTOR: There are plenty of young guys that are caught in the same situation that you are in. You can do everything on your own.

DANNY GILMORE: I can't go down the stairs on my own.

And now that he's been released from the hospital, he feels like a prisoner in his own home. His grandmother cannot afford an electronic lift, which would allow him to get up and down stairs by himself.

LESTER HOLT: So that day you came out of the store? You were just a few blocks from your house?

DANNY GILMORE: Right.

LESTER HOLT: Were you ever worried that something like that could ever happen to you?

DANNY GILMORE: Yeah,

LESTER HOLT: How come?

DANNY GILMORE: Cause it happened a lot, it's just that type of neighborhood where you don't know if you're safe going to the store or not.

DANNY’S GRANDMOTHER: It's like the adults are not getting shot now, it’s just the children. And it's children shooting children. It's like a genocide in their own race because most of them are black.

LESTER HOLT: Why do you think this problem is so bad in Chicago?

DANNY GILMORE: Cause there are too many guns out there. How can just anyone get their hands on guns like that?

LESTER HOLT: But you know a lot of people that have guns?

DANNY GILMORE: Yes.

LESTER HOLT: How often do you think about that day and retrace in your mind exactly what happened that day?

DANNY GILMORE: Everyday, everyday. Sometime I think like, ‘If I would have just taken a little more time getting ready, would stuff have been different?’ But...

LESTER HOLT: But nothing changes?

DANNY GILMORE: NOTHING CHANGES

FATHER MIKE: Please welcome Superintendent Jody Weis.

JODY WEIS: Thank you, Father Mike.

Jody Weis is head of the Chicago Police Department. He says he intends to make sure things change in this city, especially when it comes to firearms. On this day, in a guns-for-cash drive, he believes he's hit pay-dirt.  

JODY WEIS: This is a great day. We've taken in 2,972 weapons across the city... 

On hand to mark this moment are two parents who lost their son to gun violence: Annette and Ron Holt, himself a policeman. 

JODY WEIS: ...we can make a difference if we stand together and to try and bring peace to our streets and get these weapons out of the hands of our children.

LESTER HOLT: I want to talk to you about the guns. I lived in the city for 14 years. Then and now, I wouldn't have any idea how to get a gun. But yet you've got 12, 13, 14, 15-year-old kids, can get 'em like that. How is that?

JODY WEIS: Les, it is a huge problem. To put it in perspective: '06, '07, '08, we recovered an average 13,000 weapons a year. Los Angeles and New York combined, they recovered around 12,000 weapons.  Then you throw in the fact that we do have the largest gang population, and I don't know why we do, but we do. You've got 2 bad mixes, a lot of guns with a lot of gang members.

Jody Weis says that, despite all the bad news and the horrific killings that have captured the nation's interest, homicide numbers – though still high – have been dropping in this city.

JODY WEIS: When you look at the numbers, we've had a 19 percent reduction in Chicago public schools students being shot this year, we've had a 12 percent reduction in the homicides.

To him, the numbers are a strong sign the city is doing something right. Weis points out that his department and Chicago's public schools trade information every day to figure out which kids are most likely to start trouble. He's put more officers along school routes to prevent mob fights, like the one that killed Derrion. And he's hoping a new TV campaign encouraging witnesses to come forward will get more killers off the streets.

PSA: Stop the violence, stop the silence. Silence kills.

But the department may have some others to thank, also. Strange allies, indeed...

LESTER HOLT: Do you trust him? Do you embrace them?

JODY WIESS: I know these guys are not angels, but we're at a point where we'll use any tool we can get our hands on that we believe will work.

Part 5

LESTER HOLT: Is it fair to say, as far as Chicago public schools, that this is the end of the line?

ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL MARCUS WRIGHT: This is the end of the line.

The Montefiore Special School on the West side of Chicago is for boys between the ages of 11 and 15 – specifically, the students that no other schools can handle. The troubled kids...

Marcus Wright is assistant principal in charge of discipline at Montefiore. He says many of these kids have been expelled from other schools. A good deal more suffer from behavioral disorders. And most of them share one thing in common...

LESTER HOLT: How many of these kids are associated with or belong to or with gangs?

MARCUS WRIGHT: The vast majority of them. And I know it for a fact. 

Marcus says these are Chicago's most vulnerable children:  The ones most likely to become victims or to victimize.

MARCUS WRIGHT: You guys cannot do what you want to do. You have to follow the rules, man. Now go get you something to eat.

MARCUS WRIGHT: They are very impulsive. And their behavior becomes very explosive in the drop of a heart beat. [snaps]

LESTER HOLT: So more prone to pick up a gun and more prone to use it?

MARCUS WRIGHT: More prone to beat, use an object.

LESTER HOLT: If I’m running a gang, is this the kid that I send to do the really dirty work?

MARCUS WRIGHT: Easily. Violence, malice, strife – these are things that are commendable on the streets.

LESTER HOLT: Tell me what it's like in this school environment for you? Do you understand why you ended up here?

BOY 1: My anger. That's pretty much what it was. I got a lot... out of control. So that's how I ended up here.

LESTER HOLT: Has it gotten you in trouble before?

BOY 1: Oh, yeah.

LESTER HOLT: Have you been taken to jail?

BOY 2: Yeah, before.

BOY 3: I got locked up multiple times. Three times here. Two for fighting.

And these boys seem to know, if not fully understand, what their bad behavior can lead to...

LESTER HOLT: Any of you have any thoughts as to why so many young people are getting shot and killed in this city?

BOY 2: Gangbanging.

BOY 3: Gangbanging. Violence.

LESTER HOLT: Why are so many young people attracted to the gangs?

BOY 3: For, like, somebody to look up to, basically. Like if they didn't have a father in their life or nobody to keep them on the right path or right road.

Marcus and Montefiore are trying to convince these boys that gang life is not the right road. But they also know they can't help every child. The wall of the principal's office is a shrine to students felled by gun violence.

And those who don't get the message and fail out of Montefiore... well, the future isn't bright.

LESTER HOLT: What happens after here?

MARCUS WRIGHT: Jail or the psychiatric hospitals.

BOY 1: Montefiore really isn't a bad boy school like everybody calls it. It's not.

LESTER HOLT: Then what is it? How would you describe it?

BOY 1: None of us are crazy. We just need to learn how to act, you know?

And Marcus reminds them that each day spent here, trying, is a small victory.

MARCUS WRIGHT: Each day you get up and you come to school, that's being my hero. Even if you're loud and you may disagree with some of the things I say, or some of the things the staff say, or the other students say. But you're still my hero because you're here. And I am my brother's keeper.

Not far from Montefiore is another school struggling to keep its students safe. It's an elementary school in a neighborhood ruled by a gang called The Vice Lords.

SHERRYL MOORE OLLIE: Kids have experienced coming to school and seeing someone shot on the streets. They've experienced that.  It's part of their norm.

Sherryl Moore Ollie is the principal of Penn Elementary.

SHERRYL MOORE OLLIE: It's part of their norm. When they leave school, they go home to the same violence. So we need an ally, someone who has grown up in the community, who's been a part of the violence and now wants to change that.

Principal Ollie finally found what she'd been looking for in Derek Brown. Still, some find it hard to see this man as a role model for children.

LESTER HOLT: We're standing on familiar territory, 16th and Lawndale. What's significant about this corner?

DEREK BROWN: This was my last hustle block. The last block that I was getting money on.

Derek – aka Shotgun – is a former gang chief of the Vice Lords. He got his nickname for his ease with a certain firearm. After losing his best friend to the streets, Shotgun decided he needed a life change.

LESTER HOLT: When you say 'hustle', you were selling drugs here?

DEREK BROWN: Selling illegal drugs, yes. 

LESTER HOLT: And who would defend this area?

DEREK BROWN: Me. Who would protect it? Me. Who would start the trouble? Me. Who would win the battles? Me.

But he insists that's all behind him.

Now the man called Shotgun wants to keep kids away from guns and violence. And he's hoping after-school boxing lessons will do the trick.  Here the emphasis is less on fighting and more on thinking.

DEREK BROWN: We're not learning how to box to go outside and fight nobody. This is not what this is about. This is about discipline and making choices in life. When I was 12 years old, I went to jail for robbery. 18, my best friend got killed. Just for hanging out there on them streets, man. Don't think because y’all kids it won't happen to you. Cause it can and it will.

And if mentoring kids weren't a tall enough order, Shotgun is trying to get guns off the street.

CHEVEZ FITZPATRICK: If they ain't here, they won't get no job. It's as simple as that.

He and Chevez Fitzpatrick, another former gang leader, are making men in this community a tempting offer:  Turn in your guns and we'll get you a job.

CHEVEZ FITZPATRICK: This is SK, assualt rifle. This is like a fully automatic.

Shotgun has promised to find good old-fashioned work for each gang member. And he's not just helping his pals...

DEREK BROWN: There goes one of them right there, Freno. Freno was a big guy in the neighborhood. Me and him used to shoot at each other.

LESTER HOLT: The two of you?

DEREK BROWN: Yeah, me and him right there.

LESTER HOLT: Used to shoot at each other?

DEREK BROWN: We used to shoot at each other. Now I got him a job. Now the kids can walk by and see him working and say, 'I wanna be Freno.' It's a great feeling that you're turning lives around. That's the beauty of it.

But out here, it's hard for kids to look up to responsible adults when they're so busy looking out for the rest of the gang.

DEREK BROWN: Well, looks like a gang fight done broke out, they're running with bats right here.

Shotgun is about to be tested when a match is lit, tempers flare and kids are burning for a fight. 

DEREK BROWN: Ain't nobody fixin to fight. I'll tell you what, you can fight me.

Part 6

The past school year was another violent one for Chicago. From last September to this past June, 31 students were killed and another 218 were shot.

DEREK BROWN: This is like one of the hottest spots. You know, when it's quiet, it's kind of scary. 

This past May, with gunfire terrorizing neighborhoods, Shotgun began standing every night on the same corner from which he once sold drugs. Only now, he was looking to stop trouble,  not start it.

DEREK BROWN: Hold on, I’m gonna go see what's going on. Looks like a gang fight done broke out.  They're running with bats here. I'm fixing to go see what's going on.

On this particular night, two mobs of teenagers – armed with sticks – headed towards each other.

DEREK BROWN: Somebody gonna end up getting hurt.

TEEN 1: Yeah, David. He's the one who called me up and we're gonna' fight.

TEEN 2: We can go at it. I'll knock the whole f--king crowd out. I'll knock the whole f--king crowd...

DEREK BROWN: Hey, ain't nobody gonna' be doing no swinging. Ain't nobody fixin' to fight. I'll tell you what, you can fight me. Ain't nobody fixin' to do no fighting. That ain't nothin…

TEEN 1: They came deep on us.

DEREK BROWN: Hey boy, you better put that s--t down, man.

When a kid pulled out a gun, Shotgun let him have it.

DEREK BROWN: Hey, you better put that s--t down, boy.

And with that, the police arrived. But it wasn't the kind of help Shotgun was looking for.

DEREK BROWN: We're taking care of something. We all right.

COP: Slow down. Slow down. You're doing too much. I said, 'what are you doing?’

DEREK BROWN: We're trying to make sure nobody... That nothing happens out there, you know. Just stopping violence. A peace gathering.

COP: How about we just move?

DEREK BROWN: All right.

COP: So, everybody's good?

DEREK BROWN: Yes, ma'am. All right.

The way Shotgun sees it, tonight's time bomb was best diffused by men like himself who often – literally – call the shots here.  Not by the police.

DEREK BROWN: This is why it is so important for us to be out here. You probably got the youngest one over there, like 11. Where are the parents? I don't know. It's like them kids, they kill for fun.

But there doesn't seem to be enough men like Shotgun who are willing to stand on every corner. Even if there were, says police superintendent Jody Weis, there has to be a smarter way to keep streets under control… and children safe. 

JODY WEIS: It's a national problem. These – these tragedies of our young people losing their lives to violence, it's not just specific to Chicago. You've got family sometimes that mom and dad are members of gangs, and their mom and dad were member of gangs. The mayor says it all the time: A child isn't born with a gun in his hand. He's not born using profanity. He's not born flashing up gang signs. These are learned behavior, and, as a society, I think we have to do better to provide our young people with better options.

POLICE OFFICER: On behalf of Superintendent Wies, and the entire Chicago police department, congratulations Director Holt.

At least one of his employees, Ron Holt, has already heard that call to action. Since his son's death, Holt has campaigned to get guns out of the hands of kids. This past spring, he was honored and promoted for his work. During the ceremony, Ron asked his ex-wife Annette to pin a picture of their late son Blair on his uniform.

RON HOLT: Today is May 10th, 2010. It marks the third year of Blair’s death. You know it's just too painful. Just never thought anything like this would happen to our son… And just think. He was gonna be somebody, somebody great. I'm gonna keep fightin' for you, boy, and everybody else.

And he keeps talking... to anyone who will listen. 

RON HOLT: I stand to stop the violence. I stand to silence the violence. I'm a face against violence. I am a winner against violence. I stand, I know, I can, I rise, I rise!  Thank you very much. Peace!

RON HOLT: Something that I think he would want us to do is keep going. He'd say, 'Keep going, Ma. Keep going, Dad. Just keep going.’

Organizations featured in the report
Lester Holt: Hard to explain violence

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Chicago crime wave targets children

  1. Closed captioning of: Chicago crime wave targets children

    >>> was shot last night and seriously wounded in a park, another grim statistic in what has been a very tough year since a teenager was beaten to death there last september. chicago streets have become a battlefield. and the casualties are kids. lester holt takes us to the chicago streets where teens are often armed and dangerous .

    >> from last september, to this past june, 218 chicago students were shot. 31 were killed. not in schools, but on the streets of chicago . even hardened locals say the killing has to stop. derrick brown , aka shotgun, used to rule his west side neighborhood as a gang leader . who would defend this area?

    >> me. who would protect it, me. who would start the trouble, me. who would win the battles, me.

    >> now, after spending most of his youth in lockup, he wants to steer kids away from the violence.

    >> 18 my best friend got killed. don't think because y'all kids, it won't happen to you. because it can and it will.

    >> this past may, with shootings wreaking havoc around the city, shotgun hit the streets. only now, he was on patrol. looking to stop trouble. not start it.

    >> a little like a gang fight that broke out.

    >> on this fight, two mobs of teenagers armed with sticks head towards each other.

    >> he don't call me up and we going fight. [ bleep ]

    >> ain't nobody going to fight. it, i tell you what, you can fight me. hey, boy, you got to put that down, man.

    >> when a kid pulls out a gun, shotgun lets him have it.

    >> you better put that down, boy.

    >> and with that, the police arrive.

    >> just stopping violence with a peace gathering.

    >> how about we just move.

    >> all right.

    >> eventually, shotgun and his friends convince these kids to cool down. and go home. he says former troublemakers like himself are often more effective than the police at keeping the peace here. and chicago police say these men can have something valuable to offer.

    >> you trust them, do you embrace them? zmi know these guys are not angels, but we're at a point where we'll use any tool that we can get our hands on that we believe will work.

    >> besides, shotgun says, many of these kids don't want angels to look up to. they'll settle tore an adult who cares. one willing to step in before it's too late. lester holt , nbc news, chicago .

    >> much more of lester holt 's

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