An Eyewitness to the Chicago School Shooting
The Innovations shooting should raise questions about where charter schools are located
In the early afternoon of January 26, 2024, two Innovations High School students were slain after being ambushed by masked gunmen. A reader who was a witness to the incident as it unfolded, submitted his account and his views on the Loop location of Innovations.
On Friday, I had lunch at Oasis Café — an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant on North Wabash Avenue. Oasis is located in the back of a tiny mall where vendors sell jewelry and wristwatches. Lingering to examine a Seiko on my way out, I heard loud percussive sounds that I initially assumed were construction noise. Moments later, I realized a shooting had occurred directly outside. I could see at least one person dead or dying on the sidewalk across the street. I would learn later there were two shooting victims. It was a deeply jarring and upsetting experience.
For a few moments, I stood looking out the window — waiting for police to arrive; waiting to see if there would be more shots. A wristwatch vendor and a jewelry vendor stood beside me.
“Are those students at the school?” one of the vendors asked.
I looked across the street, where carnage, chaos, and wailing now covered the sidewalk. I could see buildings and stores and what looked like the entrances to offices or apartments. What I could not see, however, was anything that resembled a school.
The other vendor —apparently similarly confused — gestured to the chaos and said what I was thinking: “That’s a school?”
This had been, I suddenly realized, a school shooting.
Most Chicagoans are decent and brave. When something like a school shooting occurs, they will run toward the school, to protect students. Nevertheless, we were unable to do that here because we did not even know we were looking at a school.
The school in question, Innovations High School, exists under the radar. When you walk by outside, you are not even aware a school exists.
Its website declares:
"Innovations High School students are residents of the city of Chicago who reside throughout the city. We service 450 students. While our charter and campus are committed to providing a program of success for students seeking a high school diploma after dropping out or withdrawing from their previous school, many families have made their Innovations High School their school of choice for a quality education in a small school environment."
Introducing Chicagoans who are somehow “at-risk” into neighborhoods and areas where there is “less risk” is usually salutary and good. However, in my experience, the local community plays a big part in that.
For example, I live on a cul-de-sac lined with market-rate buildings, and also a building that contains 110 units of Cook County low-income housing. In the spring, when catcalling season starts — it comes only from the County building — we market-rate residents are sometimes called upon to remind our neighbors that shouting across the parking lot about the swimsuit-areas of our wives and daughters is not a value of this community, or of this cul-de-sac. Fortunately, our message gets across. The forces of positive peer pressure and acculturation are real and they change behavior. Full stop.
Theoretically, relocating 450 at-risk high school students to Jewelers Row might allow the Jewelers Row community to look out for these kids, and to have a positive impact upon them. Yet for the professionals working in the Loop to do so, the community would have to know the kids are there.
As it stands, you can be regular at a restaurant right across from Innovations for many years and be remarkably unaware a high school exists there.
And, of course, a larger issue is also at play.
Murder, in the Loop, on a public sidewalk, on a weekday, during work hours is unsettling for the city of Chicago. It is literally repulsive, repulsing-away residents and businesses. It is the sort of incident that could make Google rethink its recent decision to expand here. With Google’s expected move into the Thompson Center a mere 10-minute walk from the site of the Innovations shooting, the tech giant’s employees may discover Oasis Café, but will they experience any sense of security walking to Oasis if they fear their personal safety can be compromised by shootings.
Chicago’s Loop must be kept safe because it is the very center of commerce. If too many businesses leave because of crime, Chicago will Detroit. (The name of that city is the only appropriate verb to use here.)
A school that exists so inconspicuously that it does not really feel like a part of its community, could be anywhere, in any community — or in no community at all. The positive impact that the locals could have on the school and its students will not be felt.
If schools for children who are at the greatest risk of both perpetrating violence and becoming the victims of violence are going to be opened in the Loop, it should be a well-advertised for the benefit of the students themselves as much as for professionals. That way, those of us who work or live in the Loop can make an effort to ensure those schools are not places where violence is tolerated or allowed to occur.
We can’t do that if we don’t even know they’re there.