Editor's Note: This week American Morning is examining the causes of youth-on-youth violence across the country. In part one of the series, "Walk in My Shoes," we talk to Vashion Bullock – one of the teens who participated in the brawl captured on video that left a 16-year-old boy dead. On Tuesday, we talk with teens about why they fight, and if anything can be done to change the behavior.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/10/20/illinois.teen.beating/art.derrion.wls.jpg caption="Derrion Albert, 16, was beaten to death September 24. His death was captured on video."]
By T.J. Holmes, CNN
Teen violence – it's a problem just about everywhere. In California, a crowd watched a 15-year-old girl gang raped after her high school prom. Five of the six suspects are teenagers.
In Florida, a 15-year-old suffers second-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, when five teens set him on fire in a dispute involving his failure to pay them $40 for a video game.
And in Chicago, captured on a cell phone camera, 16-year-old Derrion Albert beaten to death by a mob of teens. A killing so senseless and brutal it strikes a nerve across the country, all the way to the White House.
“It was a stark wake-up call to a reality that can be easy for too many to ignore,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.
A wake-up call to a startling reality where, according to the most recently released CDC figures, an average of 16 young people are murdered each day in the United States. In Chicago, twelve public school students have been killed in the last four months, including Derrion Albert.
“I got some regrets. I wish I would’ve stayed home that day,” says 17-year-old Vashion Bullock, one of the kids who took part in the Chicago brawl.
Facing expulsion from Fenger High School, Vashion says what the public sees in these images and what he saw that day are two different stories. In his world, he says, fighting is about survival.
“One of the kids had thrown a rock at my brother's car, so I approached the boys like 'why ya all, why ya all throwing rocks and stuff at the car.'”
For weeks, Vashion says tension was brewing between two rival factions at Chicago's Fenger High School. Fights between the teens were nothing new, but on this day some kids came with makeshift weapons.
“They brought those weapons to the fight. That's what the people are not understanding. They picked up them housing bricks and brought them, they picked up them bottles and brought them. They ripped up the railroad tracks just to fight.”
Video of the fight shows a shirtless Vashion with his brother Eugene Riley standing next to him, both empty-handed as another teen whacks Vashion with a wooden plank. When the brothers appear again, they're holding planks.
T.J.: So your brother comes over and does what?
Vashion: Swung on one of them with me. He's fighting with me. … He had to protect himself and me because I am his little brother.
T.J.: You’re telling me your brother was simply defending himself and defending you at the time with whatever was around and whatever the other side was using.
Vashion: Come on. I got hit in the back of my head. He got hit in the back of his head with a stick.
T.J.: Did Derrion, as far as you know, did he ever, was he ever part of the group that was jumping you?
Vashion: I ain't gonna say he was fighting me cuz I couldn't tell.
T.J.: So you assume he was over there trying to swing on you and trying to fight you and your brother?
Vashion: No I ain't assuming. I know for a fact.
Authorities have repeatedly said Derrion was nothing more than an innocent bystander on his way home from school, caught between two rival groups.
T.J.: So from what you see in that video. What do you see your brother doing to Derrion?
Vashion: I see him fighting. He hit him with a stick. It was a fight.
Derrion was still on the ground when Vashion's brother Eugene delivered a final blow.
T.J.: I know it's your brother and I know you love him, but do you think it was necessary to take it that far?
Vashion: They brought those weapons to the fight. That's what the people not understanding.
T.J.: But Derrion was down. Why did you think your brother had to go after and hit this kid, who clearly wasn't a threat anymore at least?
Vashion: He was another body, another body with two hands that could've been swinging on anybody.
T.J.: What did you think when you heard that Derrion had been killed?
Vashion: That was sad. Ain't nobody meant to take his life.
After video of the brawl was released, Vashion's brother Eugene was taken into custody – one of four teens charged in the killing of Derrion Albert.
T.J.: You think your brother should be in jail right now?
T.J.: Why not?
Vashion: Because it was a fight. A fight happens daily. People die daily.
T.J.: But you know for the police and for our justice system that isn't good enough. Your brother picked up something, hit a kid, and the kid died.
Vashion: What about the other people that picked up the weapons and hit me. Where they at?
T.J.: Don't you think somebody should be held accountable for Derrion's death?
Vashion: No, not accountable for the whole thing because it was a mistake. Ain't nobody want him to die. And nobody meant for him to die. We just was a fight. Fights get took out of hand. Not intentionally, just because.