As April winds down, and with it Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s worth again noting that the rate of violence in Oklahoma has been creeping up in recent years. And it’s time for our state’s top leaders – who wear blinders when it comes to anything negative – to discuss what we’re going to do about it.
Late last year, the FBI listed Oklahoma as the 10th most dangerous state in the union, based on statistics from 2012. Violent crimes are rape, murder, robbery and aggravated assault. Some Okies might find it a bit disconcerting to learn that our state ranked above California and New York in this data. Topping the list was Tennessee, followed by Nevada, Alaska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Delaware, Louisiana, Florida and Maryland.
The statistics, compiled by the group 24/7 Wall St., indicated rapes in this state are up 12.6 percent, and aggravated assaults grew by 3.8 percent, though nationally they increased by just 1.1 percent. And on a recent Forbes list, Lawton, Okla., was named the eighth most dangerous U.S. city for women. With a population of 114,290, violent crimes came in at 771 per 100,000, with rapes at 57 per 100,000.
24/7 Wall St. pointed out the correlation between high crime rates and areas with low income and low education rates. We may not want to admit it, but Oklahoma’s poverty rate stands at around 17 percent, and less than a quarter of our residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s one of the worst education rates in the entire country. Lack of education and poverty also go hand in hand. In general, the more education a person gets, the higher his income will be. But it’s a catch 22: How can you afford a quality university education if you live in abject poverty?
Years ago, needy young people who were ambitious and hard-working could count on financial aid. But more recently, politicians have whittled away at these funds in deference to their well-heeled donors, who don’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay for their children’s educations. Meanwhile, government hand-outs are as abundant and frivolous as ever; only the identities and the causes of the recipients have changed, according to which party controls what branch of government, and at what level.
The governor and other state “leaders” have been taking steps they claim will bring in well-paying jobs for Oklahomans, and they give lip service to quality education. Most recently, the governor dictated that cities could not, of their own accord, raise minimum wages. Regardless of whether folks agree with the concept of a minimum wage, most of us suspect the state’s heavy-handed tactics aren’t doing its residents, its businesses or its children any good. Where is the evidence of all these pie-in-the-sky promises these politicians have made?
Public schools and universities are increasingly squeezed for cash, but the ones taking the brunt of the injury are students and teachers – not the legions of inept and overpaid administrators peopling many institutions. Companies move into towns with the promise that they won’t have to pay taxes for a certain number of years, and when the communities eventually ask the companies to pay their fair share, they move onto cheaper pastures. These employees can’t necessarily count on good wages, nor can they count on stability. And schools can’t count on keeping good teachers.
Whatever Oklahoma leaders are doing, they’re not doing it well. If we’re not careful, our state will inch up ever higher on that violent crimes list, as our wages and quality of education fall lower and lower. It’s another point worth remembering when we go to the polls this November.