The riots that occurred in Milwaukee last week followed a disastrous pattern that has played out across the country in the past few years.
In a poor African American neighborhood with few job opportunities and even less hope, a young black male was killed by police. Locals, joined by professional agitators, began to riot, causing even more violence, bloodshed, and destruction of the neighborhood.
Americans have watched a similar set of events play out in Ferguson, in Baltimore, in Baton Rouge, and now in Milwaukee. And as the violence continues, the anger has grown.
Yet the solutions we too often hear from our political leaders remain inadequate and superficial: Gun control, body cameras, disarming the police, decriminalizing drugs.
These are the kinds of policy proposals our elites are discussing. And yet none of the proposals has much to do with the underlying causes of violence, poverty and despair.
Thankfully, there has been at least one voice of clarity and reason about the urgent challenge.
Speaking after the riots this week, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke offered one of the most thoughtful analyses of what has led to the “frustration, anger and resentment” that Americans in many poor communities feel.
“Here’s what causes riots,” Sheriff Clarke said:
We have inescapable poverty in the city of Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s like the sixth poorest city in America. You have massive black unemployment. I think it’s at 32%. You have a failing K-12 public education system. It’s one of the worst in the nation. You have questionable lifestyle choices…All of these kids with no fathers around, father-absent homes. When fathers aren’t around to shape the behavior of young men, they oftentimes grow up to be unmanageable misfits. Those are the ingredients. Milwaukee has all of them.
“Stop trying to fix the police,” Sheriff Clarke said at the press conference. “Fix the ghetto.”
Certainly, most Americans share the goal of extending opportunity to our inner cities. But the Sheriff is right that many don’t want to talk about the real problems. The police are catching the brunt of the criticism. But they are not the real cause of the despair.
Instead, the problem is more fundamental. When people are trapped in poverty–when they see no chance of getting out, when they are told to take food stamps, to live in public housing, and to stagger along as best they can–they lose hope, and they despair.
When people despair, anger and resentment can follow.
Millions of Americans have been left behind in poverty. In the inner cities, their neighborhoods aren’t safe, and the schools have failed them. For many, the path of college and a four-year degree–the middle-class route to a good job–is not even an option.
America’s inner cities urgently need a bridge to the Middle Class for those the system has left behind. Above all, that means a learnable skill that pays good money and offers a chance at a good career. Providing a system to train poor Americans for good jobs is one of our most urgent social challenges.
Indeed, opportunities for skills training and career-focused education programs are a far more serious and practical response to the problems of the inner city than the calls for “national conversations” we hear time and again on cable news networks.
And yet, as Sheriff Clarke noted in his comments after the Milwaukee riots, instead of strengthening the bridge to the middle class–a good job to help support a family–government is doing everything it can to weaken it.
We have a welfare system that too often punishes work and rewards choices which destroy lives.
We have a tax and regulatory system that makes it harder for small businesses to hire people, even when they’re willing to take the risk of setting up shop in a dangerous neighborhood.
And as recently as this month, we were reminded that bureaucrats in Washington are trying to kill the very job training and career education programs that help people learn the skills they need.
In fact, in the same month that Milwaukee was rioting and the problems of the inner-city were dominating headlines, the bureaucrats at the Department of Education were sifting through comments submitted on their proposed “defense-to-repayment” regulation, which would require all schools to set aside funds to forgive student loan debts for those who claim there were “misrepresentations” made to them about their programs.
Because the proposed rule requires schools to set aside vast funds each time a lawsuit is filed–even before the claims are subject to the scrutiny of a court of law–merely the threat of lawsuits would likely drive many small, independent career schools out of business.
Of course, that is precisely the point. Ideologically driven bureaucrats are pushing burdensome regulations that will bankrupt private career education schools and certificate programs.
And yet the programs they’re trying to put out of business are the very ones that focus on training people in the skills they need to have careers as welders, nurse practitioners, and IT professionals. In other words, the kind of practical skills that can help people in our poorest neighborhoods get the jobs they need to enter the middle class.
Both Republicans and Democrats should be for accountability in higher education. But a regulation that leaves the schools serving poor Americans vulnerable to being put out of business by trial lawyers and meritless lawsuits? That’s not accountability. That’s extremism. It’s an assault.
Even the Washington Post editorial board has labeled the latest proposed regulation an “overreach,” and the Post understands exactly who it’s targeted at. “The Obama administration has made no secret of its dislike” for private sector schools, the Post notes, before going on to criticize the administration’s “zeal to disable” these institutions.
“A cottage industry already is forming with law firms and loan-consolidation companies trolling for students with borrower defense claims,” the Post editors write. The result would be to put taxpayers “on the hook for billions of dollars in student loan discharges.”
In their war against private-sector education, the bureaucrats should be honest about who they’re fighting for–the trial lawyers and the ideologues–and who they’re fighting against. They aren’t just attacking the schools, but also their students–the millions of Americans, many from the inner cities, who lack the skills they need to get a good job, and who’ve taken the responsibility to learn those skills at a program of their choice.
Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House. See his website here.