Atlanta is symbolic of most big American cities, where the excitement of sports or the splash of scandal somehow masks a daily routine of violent and brutal crimes, where victims are robbed, injured or killed. And reading the newspaper or watching Atlanta’s local news may have visitors wondering if they themselves will survive the “big shootout.”
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, which deserves a Pulitzer for its work revealing the “Atlanta School Cheating Scandal,” as it is now known, chronicled a day in the life of their town through its usual “Metro Section” reports of Thursday, April 4, 2013.
Here is a selection of the headlines that ran in that section, on that random day: “Driver faces DUI in fatality,” “Arrest made in high school student’s death,” “Burglar shot by women gets 10 years,” “Teen pleads guilty to tot’s slaying,” “Teen sentenced to 5 years in younger brother’s shooting,” “Cobb man accused of beating 8-week-old baby,” “Woman indicted in daughter’s death,” “Man accused of stabbing his roommate to death,” “Sandy Springs toddler shoots himself in hand.” All that in just one day’s morning paper, and in one metro area.
Wow. That is some serious stuff with some really bad outcomes. And trust me, these type of headlines are not just limited to Atlanta. They are all over this nation.
Basically, the combination of years of a bad economy, a declining quality of education nationwide and the failure of a “War on Poverty” that began with LBJ and continues even today have combined to create a whole lot of desperate people who do really desperate things. And it seems many policymakers are more interested in a showy “offense” in dealing with problems than a more reasonable “defense.”
Is the answer to violent crime to have stricter gun control or weapon bans? The answer is likely “no” because in this country there are just too many bad guys who already have access to a lifetime supply of weapons. And the weapons most legislation would continue to allow would not have stopped most of the gun-related crimes described by those headlines.
Instead, we need to determine what really justifies the time of law enforcement, the court system and our prison systems, as well as how to fix our broken system of education.
For example, do we need to lock up endless numbers of people for possession of drugs they choose to use to destroy their own bodies? They can end up costing our heath system and can sometimes become more dangerous people, but those are ifs and buts. Our war on drugs has been just as big of a failure as the one on poverty. Meanwhile, we aren’t doing such a great job keeping our kids, or even these days our prosecutors, safe.
Perhaps guards to protect our kids in school would be money well spent. And when it comes to the public in general, telling neighborhoods to hire private security to repel criminals from attacking them (which one local metro-Atlanta official reportedly suggested) is no answer. We must prioritize how we protect, punish and educate — remembering what government is really supposed to pay for, and what it’s not.
Despite the serious nature of the charges and considering just one day’s worth of headlines, it seemed a bit excessive when bail was first set at $7.5 million for former Atlanta Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall. And having Hall and her alleged cohorts potentially take up millions in the cost of prosecution and potential jailtime seems less important than recognizing once again that government should stick to what it is supposed to do. Regardless of the cheating scandal, Hall and her team failed miserably, again proving the weakness of “government education” in America.
When it comes to public safety, government is supposed to help protect us from deadly harm and defend us from hostile invasion, which would include guarding our children with real live law enforcement and not volunteer substitutes and keeping the really bad people off the streets.
As for public education, it has become an “acquired right” over the years. It should be accomplished through charter schools or innovative free enterprise, without government waste or supervision that becomes a bureaucratic nightmare, such as was the case in Atlanta.
Just like in basketball, it always looks good when you can run up a score on offense against a weak opponent. Allegedly, Hall did that with test scores, and now the state seeks to return the favor. But with really bad folks out there running up the score on serious and deadly crimes, it seems time to put our defensive players to work guarding against the real threats that surround us on a daily basis.
Matt Towery heads the polling firm InsiderAdvantage. Follow him on Twitter @matttowery.