Confused Messaging: Peace for MLK Day and Mass Shootings Galore
MLK Day in Danvers
On Martin Luther King Day, the Danvers MA community (and many other communities across our nation) came together to share visions of peace and racial/ethnic harmony. There were speeches by adults and students. Despite a snow storm, the attendance at the Danvers was high — with the schools and the community well-represented.
For me, the highlight of the event was the art the seven Danvers Public Schools created and displayed. There was art all over the hallways and cafeteria. And virtually all the art messaged themes that Dr. King espoused.
Here are several examples, all noteworthy and all worth perusing.
And, as I have done every year, initially with my son when he lived at home and now with a man I am seeing, I/we have read the entire I have a Dream speech. And, I am reminded of how we often forget the power of the less frequently cited portions of that speech, including that America has failed on its promissory note that all people were guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Sadly, that speech is as apt today as it was when it was delivered 6 (yes 6) decades ago.
Now to Shootings
It is in this context of promotion of peace and equality that I have been trying to process the multiple mass shootings that have occurred within our nation over the past months. While the settings have been different. the results are the same: innocent people are dead and scores of others are injured.
In a recent article by Julia Ledur in the Washington Post, she notes that the Gun Violence Archives report 39 mass shootings in the US in 2023. The data have been collected since 2014, and this is the largest number of January shootings and I might add, the month is not over yet. Bottom line, we have averaged more than one mass shooting a day in this new year.
And, let me be clear, mass shootings are defined as events where four or more people are injured or killed (not counting the shooter). There have been “smaller” shootings in schools across the nation. Stabbings too. And schools are not the only unsafe zone — communities, churches, malls, streets.
So, in the midst of remembering messages of peace and unity, we are confronted with shootings, some of which are racially’/ethnically based and others of which appear to be workplace related and others of which appear to be random acts of individuals finding some source of relief or pleasure or mode to express randomly the anger they are feeling.
Link to article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/01/24/mass-shootings-us/
So Help Me Here
How do we reconcile the different messages? Not only do they contradict each other but we get deeply embroiled in politics when we start to talk about these issues. There are politics around race and ethnicity; there are politics surrounding guns.
And, to be clear, we have media coverage of MLK Day and the mass shootings but since there are more shootings than MLK Days (and the messages stick less well it seems too), we are bombarded with daily reports and stories about people murdered across our nation.
I suppose that mathematically speaking, we could say, hey, the US has lots of land and lots of people and lots of guns and lots of diversity. So, it wouldn’t be so strange to have hundreds of people each year who just “lose it,” whether from mental illness or other disorders or uncontrolled anger or hate. I’m sorry. This math explanation bothers me. Some other nations have fewer shootings as a percentage of their population. We can’t be satisfied with the math answer. We need to say: hey, we don’t sanction mass shootings and whatever are the causes, we need to find them out and find solutions. Otherwise, we are paying a very high price psychologically to live in the US. And make no mistake about this: the mass shootings and other shootings impair our individual and collective mental health. They impact our children.
We don’t have them — yet. Gun control is a legally tough and volatile argument for many reasons, not the least of which is the Second Amendment. So, instead of focusing on access to guns themselves (could we put a governor on the speed they release bullets?), how about controlling the number or type of bullets people can get? Who controls that and what economic interests are at stake, remembering that money speaks loudly? So do lobbyists. Another query: Could we make “safer” bullets, ones that don’t kill and maim so easily? Beats me. Might we think about better gun education, although thinking about driving education as a analogy leaves me cold; just reflect on the quality of most drivers’ ed courses and the number of accidents among youthful drivers. Can we blame the media for sharing the mass shooting stories, arguing that the constant news feed feeds killers too (forgetting that the journalist job is to share news)? Another beats me. Can we improve our national mental health, which is declining? Sure but we are hardly likely to have the staff or resources to do this, let alone the tools to identify those most in need of mental health intervention. Surely we can’t involuntarily confine everyone who seems like they might be a risk in mental hospitals, a return to horrible days long gone.
I do have one idea, albeit a small one (and perhaps there are many collective solutions that need to be considered rather than one massive solution, an observation made.) To get us going here: Think about the work of Yale Professors Fiona Scott Martin and Zack Cooper as summarized in an article in Health Affairs in Feb. 2021. They suggest one-percent steps to reduce health spending and they remark that these smaller steps are “decidedly unsexy.”
So, what if we thought about solutions to mass shootings in a similar way — small steps to reduce the numbers by operating on a number of levels and a number of initiatives so that collectively, these steps make a dent in the number of deaths and injuries. Like the Yale professors, we need a plan as to what these steps would be (some of which may be legislation at the federal level).
Here’s one such small step: introduce pop-up courses in schools so students of all ages and stages can process these mass shootings, most of which pass by unprocessed. The reasons for processing are many; it allows us to get a vocabulary to understand what is occurring and express how it feels to us. Kids need to express what the mass shootings make them feel. Processing allows us to get facts, untied to politics, and reflect on the views of others (whether different or similar to our own views). It enables us to discuss impacts, including ripple effects, of mass shootings. It gives children back a compass to guide them forward, with less trauma and fear and increased learning.
These pop-up courses will not resolve mass shooting. But, they do educate our students and there is a value in that as an informed citizenry is an essential element to preserving our democracy. Don’t mistunderstand. Pop -up courses will not stop mass shooting. But it will inform students and allow them to engage as they see fit in the process of finding other solutions.
Assuming these courses steer clear of politics, they have value and shouldn’t aggravate all that many politicians. Call it learning about our world and engaging students in the effort to make our world better. What’s wrong with that, especially when there is so much that is going awry and we need our youth to believe in a better tomorrow. And some of us still want to leave this world in a better place than we found it for our children and grandchildren.
If you are interested in pop-up courses and how to do them, reach out. Go to www.karengrosseducation.com and use the form to get in touch with me. I’d welcome that.