Outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan is making a push to end gun violence among young people through the introduction of a new “New Deal,” in an effort to put a stop to what he is calling a national crisis.
Using his last speech as US Education Secretary, Duncan discussed the issue of gun violence with hundreds of people in the basement of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, who only last month mourned the death of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee, who was lured into an alley and executed by gang members while playing in a nearby park.
According to The Chicago Tribune, there were 480 homicides in Chicago in 2015, up from 453 in 2014. Several cities across the country have seen a similar increase in violent crime.
Duncan noted that such violence took the lives of thousands of children each year, calling the inability of Washington to pass gun control legislation the “greatest frustration” of his seven-year tenure, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
“We as a nation allow so many of our young people to die,” Duncan said, “and somehow that’s become an acceptable way of life.”
Duncan went on to say that during his first six years in office, 16,000 young people were killed, adding that guns need to be taken out of the hands of people who cannot use them properly. “We have to make sure our babies are safe,” said Duncan.
He then drew connections between street violence and poor high schools across the country, arguing that both of these situations are the result of the hopelessness that children feel growing up in a community where they believe they have a greater chance of dying at a young age than attending college or having a career.
Duncan said the country could benefit from a “new deal” for these children that would increase access to preschools and offer better incentives for teachers who work in impoverished schools, in addition to mentorship and job support programs for poor communities, reports Lauren Camera for USNews.
“Our children need hope, and hope not in the unseen, not in the distance, but in what they can see every day on their block and in their schools and in their communities,” Duncan said.
The speech came only two days after a grand jury decided to not indict a police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had been armed only with a toy gun. While Duncan did say that police training and conduct are a large portion of the problem, he added that although there are excellent police officers out there, police culture as a whole is in need of “seismic change.”
He ended the speech by saying that the communities in which children are growing up need to be fixed first, adding that while good programs exist that offer help, they do not reach enough people. “What we don’t have anywhere is scale, is critical mass,” he said.