Education Opinion

Guns, Death, and the State of the Union

By Marilyn Rhames — February 13, 2013 2 min read
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Who you are and where you live determine if you agree with President Obama when he said last night, “The state of the union is stronger.”

If you live in Illinois, more specifically in Chicago like me, the union probably feels incredibly weak. Unemployment among minorities in the city is still in the double digits. The city is billions of dollars in debt and thousands of homes remain boarded up due to foreclosure.

The state of Illinois is in worse condition. Our public pension is underfunded by nearly $100 billion, and we have the lowest bond rating in the nation. Meanwhile, our city and state leaders keep raising taxes and fees, squeezing every extra cent out of their already struggling residents.

To add to our problems, our governors, congressmen, aldermen and other elected officials lead the nation in corruption; they are voted into the statehouse one day and sentenced to the jailhouse the next.

Then there’s the issue of guns and street violence: As we approach Valentine’s Day, 50 people in Chicago have already been murdered this year and about 210 people have been shot.

President Obama ended his State of the Union address by mentioning the recent killing of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, an honor student in Chicago who, a week prior to her death, had performed in the inaugural parade in Washington D.C. as a majorette. Hadiya was innocently hanging out in a park with friends when a gang member opened fire on the crowd in an effort to kill a rival gang member. But neither Hadiya nor any of her friends were in a gang.

“She was just there,” the 18-year-old alleged shooter Michael Ward reportedly told prosecutors.

President Obama said in his speech that the Pendleton family deserves a vote in Congress on new gun control measures. They do, but they deserve so much more.

Ward, who was on probation at the time of the shooting, had violated his probation three times since his initial weapons charge in January 2012. He would not have applied for a gun license or subjected himself to a background check. A national gun registry is needed, but it won’t stop street killers who get their guns illegally.

Stricter sentencing for illegal weapons possession would have placed Ward in jail, leaving him no opportunity to kill Hadiya. And a probation system that doesn’t give one probation officer up to 120 criminals to track might have also helped to stop Ward. However, prisons are closing in Illinois because the state cannot afford to house the criminals it already has. The state’s dire financial reality makes instituting longer prison sentences for weapons violations less likely. Even still, some killers are so brazen that they’d wear a life-in-prison sentence like a badge of honor.

Is the state of the union stronger? Perhaps to some. But all politics is local, and the chaos only seems to be increasing in my town. I wish President Obama would have admitted that many of the problems this country faces are rooted in a crisis of man’s heart, a deep-seeded internal corruption that laws will never be able to fix. Instead, he appeared to know what it takes to solve all of our problems. But that’s what politicians tend to do.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.