Departing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan used the final address of his tenure to call for a “new deal” for youth in Chicago and the nation, but also waded into the city’s police controversy with a call for changes in law enforcement training and conduct to repair eroded trust between police and the community.
“Today we have good cops who feel that they don’t have a chance — when cops unnecessarily use deadly force and aren’t held accountable, and when other cops witness that behavior and lie about it, (and) they aren’t held accountable,” Duncan said to a small crowd that included the Rev. Michael Pfleger in the basement of St. Sabina Catholic Church in the Gresham neighborhood.
Duncan also discussed gun violence, repeating his recent calls for stricter gun laws. He was introduced by Christina Waters, a former Chicago Public Schools student who was gravely wounded by a stray bullet in 2009.
Duncan called for expanded early childhood education, especially in communities “plagued by devastating levels of violence.” Also needed, he said, are financial incentives for educators who work in at-risk neighborhoods; a broad mentorship program for young children; and job creation programs for struggling young people.
“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.”
One of the longest-serving members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet and a former Chicago Public Schools chief, Duncan announced this fall that he would leave his post at the end of the year and return to Chicago.
Duncan’s press office said this summer that his family had moved back to the city, where his children were to attend the private University of Chicago Laboratory School. Duncan has not given any specifics about his plans after he returns to Chicago full time.
He parried questions about his political ambitions Wednesday, but did say he had no plans to seek public office.
Duncan didn’t mention Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is under siege following the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, or the Chicago Teachers Union, which is battling with the school district over a new contract. He also didn’t mention the ongoing fiscal troubles buffeting CPS.
But he stressed that not enough is being done for young people living in impoverished neighborhoods hard-hit by violence.
“This is a time of crisis, and this is a time of huge pain. It’s a time of fear. It’s a time right now that nobody seems to be winning, nobody’s feeling good about where we are,” Duncan said to reporters after his speech.
“And the truth is,” he said later, “in too many neighborhoods in Chicago and too many neighborhoods in other cities across the nation, we are not giving our kids a fair chance.”
Duncan said the city could see results if it committed to “do some things radically different, at scale, in a targeted manner” over the course of the coming decade or more.
“And none of this is easy, and it takes a level of cooperation and collaboration that we haven’t seen in the past, but if anyone thinks what we’re doing for our children now is adequate or sufficient or moral, I would challenge that,” Duncan said.