Last month, I asked you to think about what makes you sick and tired. Well, I am sick and tired of losing young lives to gun violence. I started writing this within days of the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. According to Time magazine’s online edition, since the Newtown, CT school shooting in February 2013, 63 intentional school shootings have resulted in the injury of an adult or student; 6 adults and 35 students have been killed, and 12 adults and 92 students have been injured. This year is proving particularly violent.
Although the “conversation of the day” is focused on violence at school, I would be remiss not to mention the young lives being lost to community violence. Too many children are dying or being affected by gun violence in our communities. According to ABC News, gunshots have resulted in over 6,000 injuries and the deaths of 1,300 children. Of those killed, 53% died in homicides; another 38% committed suicide; 6% were killed unintentionally, often while playing with guns they didn’t know were loaded.
The number of children at risk for being significantly and adversely affected by gun violence is appalling. In an effort to reverse this trend, student walkouts have been planned for March 14. On March 24, the Student March to Save Lives will occur in Washington, D.C., as well as in local cities. Many organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action are advocating for responsible gun laws.
The gun conversation is happening; however, I want to use this time and space to have a different conversation about the needs of shooters. We know that most are male; harbor hypermasculine ideals; have histories of aggression (violence at home or with girlfriends); consume violent media (video games, movies, and television); and are disengaged and disconnected from school.
While they share many similarities, mass school shooters and those who shoot in urban communities diverge in some key areas. One of those areas is in how the system treats and responds to “angry and aggressive black boys.” When black men and boys exhibit the kinds of signs and symptoms that most “young” mass shooters do, they become criminalized and mandated to child welfare and mental health systems that monitor their thoughts, interactions, and behaviors. Subsequently, black boys are criminalized for having aggressive thoughts, so they are prohibited from legally purchasing guns. Just food for thought.
Although more details are forthcoming, we know that the Parkland shooter had contact with multiple systems: at least 30 contacts with various law enforcement departments, numerous child welfare calls, and some specialized services through the school. His profile is not uncommon. Like many others, he is a symptom of lapses that would be unlikely to occur in the first place if he were a boy of color.
This is not a condemnation of the hard-working, committed individuals who constantly toil to save lives. This is an indictment of the policies, procedures, and practices that get in the way of them being able to do what's best. For example, when decisions are made in response to diminished mental health resources or there are too few effective intensive community-based diversion programs and services; or even unexamined racial cultural and class biases the vulnerabilities in our systems become evidenced. Doing what’s best for children is not cheap, but compared to the lives lost isn’t worth it?
Next month, I will discuss the best practices to address the needs of young men at risk for becoming perpetrators of gun violence. In May, I will also devote time to addressing the needs of survivor’s victims recover from gun violence. There are things that can be done to make a meaningful difference.