School Shootings and Silence
On Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, three notable events took place. First, a 15-year-old boy walked into his high school with a handgun, shot 16 people, killing two. Next, Attorney General Jeff Sessions published an Op-Ed in the USA Today: “Trump Promised to End ‘American Carnage,’ Promise Delivered.” (Yes, you read title that correctly.) Then, Senator McConnell spoke on the Senate floor about “our hearts” being with the community where the shooting took place. (By 2016, McConnell had received $1.3 million of support from the NRA.)
Two years before on the very same date (January 23rd, 2016), candidate Donald Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
It’s no shock that these three white men in particular would ignore the trend of gun violence in schools — especially gun violence committed by white males — in their statements and policies. (I would say they are out of touch with reality, in a stable genius sort of way, but were that the case they wouldn’t be working so hard at gerrymandering, deporting and barring immigrants and ignoring the will of the populace.)
Sessions makes no mention of school gun violence in his op-ed, but cites the troubling increase in the murder rate from 2015–2016.
He writes, “From its peak in 1991, the violent rate was cut in half by 2014 — saving thousands upon thousands of American lives. The murder rate also fell by half. […] But then, in 2015 and 2016, our country experienced the largest increases in violent crime we had seen in a quarter-century. […] Trump ran for office on a message of law and order, and he won.”
Both premises in the latter statement seem up for debate. Losing the popular vote and Russian involvement aside, Trump announced his candidacy on June 16th, 2015. I’ve never known Trump to be a stats man, but perhaps he indeed looked at the murder rate statistics from the five months prior to his announcement and decided that he would run for president on the principles of law and order. Perhaps. He certainly didn’t mention it in his rambling speech when we all learned how he pronounced China. Near the end of his announcement he said, “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration, immediately. Fully support and back up the Second Amendment. Now, it’s very interesting.” That’s a verbatim, unedited quotation, in order, and supports Trump’s various Twitter rampages to come: immigrants bad, guns good.
Statistics around violence in this country are scary, especially for women and people of color. And I think (and hope) we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought of an uptick in violence as a good thing. But we also have a Commander in Chief who has repeatedly encouraged violence.
The real question is one of priorities. We know the priorities of Sessions, McConnell and Trump lie in beds of fear under blankets of money.
White boys are killing us and they’re worried about Dreamers. White women are voting for accused pedophiles and they’re worried about El Salvadorans. In Maine, one in four children experience food insecurity and a bill to permit guns on school grounds is going before the legislature. Nationally, one in six children experience food insecurity and the recent tax legislation caused billionaires Charles and Elizabeth Koch to donate $500,000 to Paul Ryan after spending an estimated $20 million promoting the bill.
Where are our priorities?
My mother is an immigrant and my paternal grandparents came to the US as refugees. Immigration is personal to me in a way that white people like me get to have immigration issues be personal: getting angry and horrified safely from the sidelines. No one questions my right to be here. No one asks me where I’m really from. No one says “go home” in a way that implies I should be deported. This is not true for so many of the members of my community, my classroom. My skin is more powerful than my passport or my birth certificate.
And yet. White boys continue to shoot their classmates and themselves at alarming rates with frequency that becomes less alarming and more commonplace. Today, I found myself reading a headline buried in the you-gotta-scroll-to-it section of the New York Times: School Shooting Was Nation’s 11th This Year. It Was January 23rd.
And then I found myself circling back to the questions I used to end the first essay I wrote on school shootings three years ago: How can this be true? How can any of this be true?
At the Women’s March in Las Vegas last weekend, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards talked about the progress and change since the previous year’s march. She called on white women to start stepping up to the plate. She said, “White women, listen up. We’ve got to do better. […] It is not up to women of color to save this country from itself. That’s on all of us. […] The good news is when we are in full-on sisterhood, women are the most powerful, political force in America.”
So yes, white women, I’d like us to be better. I’d like us to support our fellow citizens and non-citizens as if our lives and their lives depend upon it. Because they do.
Our children are dying. Our children are killing each other. Surely, we can elect candidates who will fight for adequate gun legislation. Perhaps we can save one life. Perhaps we can save many. That’s the hope. That’s the obligation. That’s on all of us.