Parents, students report fights near Urban Prep

September 22, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Parents are demanding more police patrols in the area. They say the attacks involve teenagers from a nearby CHA complex.

Beyond the uniforms and insistence on personal responsibility that are key Urban Prep values, the school's success stems from parental involvement. Thursday night, those parents were out in force to squelch threats against their kids from what they say are gangs in nearby housing projects.

Victoria Hildreth says her son had to get stitches inside his mouth after an altercation Tuesday with residents of a housing project just north of the new campus. Police were notified.

"I saw that his, you know, he'd messed up his jaw very badly, and what we did is we just rushed him to emergency," said Hildreth.

A mother and a group of students say they were attacked this week after they stopped to help another student.

That reported attack happened near the new Urban Prep Academy west campus near 13th and Loomis on the near South Side. Parents and students claim they are harassed on a regular basis while walking to and from school.

It's the kind of harassment parents spoke out about at a school open house Thursday night, one that was meant to celebrate the beginning of school, and now one that Chicago Police carefully watched

"This volatile, violent area, these are like lambs surrounded by wolves, and that shouldn't be," said grandmother Denise Banks.

When Urban Prep Academy opened the new location this fall, parents and students were excited.

"They have a wonderful staff there," said parent Lionel Muhammad. "They have wonderful teachers, and they have an open door policy."

Parents say that from day one, groups of young men, who they believe to be from a nearby CHA complex, have been terrorizing students on their way home from school.

"They are targeting them," said parent Felicia Hampton. "They are riding around trying to see what routes they're taking, and they're trying to cut them off on those routes just to fight them."

"When you move into a new neighborhood, and you're what they call the new kids on the block, then it creates a problem for those that are in the community. They feel you're some threat to them," said Muhammad.

The near-daily incidents, parents say, have ranged from harassment to robbery to people brandishing guns.

"It's [an] everyday - everyday, all day struggle, being a female parent, a single parent," said LaShawn Taylor.

Two days ago, Toya Shaffer says she was driving a group of kids home when she got out of the car to help another student who felt threatened. She says a large group of teens surrounded her and a brawl ensued when the kids in the car came to her aid.

"Ready to fight - ready to swing. When I moved out, one of the boys reached around and hit somebody in their jaw. One broke a young man's finger. I mean, it was just ridiculous," said Shaffer.

Hildreth and a handful of other parents filed a complaint with Chicago police, who say they are investigating Tuesday's incident as well as at least two other robbery cases.

Parents say they need police to increase patrols.

"We need more help - we just need more help at the moment," said Hildreth.

"We're going to lose a lot of our students here, for one, because no one wants their children to be unsafe," said Hampton.

These people know their school, with its buttoned-down look and a track record that had every senior last year getting into a four-year college, is a target. Jason Bryant, one of the football coaches, says there is no backing down from gangs.

"I mean, in a sense, it's intimidating, but in our school, we don't fall to it, we never fail, because we never give up and we always are going to stand firm," said Bryant.

Many parents say protecting Urban Prep's newest space in the midst of public housing on all sides depends on a strong police presence, especially on foot.

"These are the leaders of tomorrow, and without you protecting the leaders of tomorrow, what's going to happen?" said Kevin Kee.

A representative from the Chicago Police Department reportedly spoke at the meeting Thursday night.

Officially, the CPD says they are investigating and coordinating a plan with Urban Prep to stop the harassment.

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