Public Enemy #1

Capone Chase, who I taught for a year and a half, has been declared Baltimore’s Public Enemy #1. He is wanted for allegedly murdering another young man execution-style on a playground within a couple days of having been released from jail for another crime.

The Capone I taught was a difficult kid, but to imagine him executing a person on a playground is chilling to say the least.

Capone was one of the brightest students I taught, not really in performance, but in raw ability to master new concepts quickly. He attended class only sporadically, yet he passed the High School Assessment for Algebra on his first shot, and by a pretty good margin, as I recall. That’s something a large majority of my students failed to do on their first try, and he did it after transferring to my school mid-year from Patterson, one of the worst schools in the city (where, incidentally, my girlfriend also taught him), and barely doing his classwork.

Capone often came to school visibly seething from something that was under his skin. He had serious issues with authority and handling conflict. He often viewed situations in black and white. He seemed to walk around with a serious victim complex, as though the entire world was constantly trying to oppress him. If he felt like he was singled out, he had a tendency to flip out. I tried hard to teach him that not everybody was out to get him, and that if he let things that annoyed him slide, he’s spend far less time caught up in conflict. But he had a serious tendency to escalate things out of proportion.

That being said, he rarely was disrespectful to me as a teacher. In most cases, he was polite and articulate. The main exceptions were when I needed him to do something he didn’t feel like doing, which would often send him to victim mode, and a tirade of “f’ this, f’ that, why you always picking on me?” Once in that mode, it would typically be very difficult to get him back on an even keel. Over time, he and his best friend at FAST realized they were probably among the “hardest” at the school, and by mid sophomore year, they were too cool to attend much class at all. He quit the basketball team mid-season, after a falling out with Coach Peyton, and after that, he kind of entered a downward spiral of caring less and less about school. I don’t know if I saw him at all in the final quarter of sophomore year.

To me, Capone is a poster child for the type of kid who would likely be on a completely different life path had he been raised in normal, non-toxic environment. He clearly came in the door with some deep baggage on a daily basis. Like most of the kids I taught, it was difficult to conceptualize what his out-of-school life must have been like. But I saw it wear him down over time. Poverty almost seems too quaint a word for years of corrosive home life.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where Capone excelled in high school and would be enjoying the summer off between first in second years in college. Not on the run from the law, having allegedly shot a man in the head. In a playground.

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