The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

VIOLENCE IN OUR SCHOOLS and The Questions I have to Ask...

Yesterday, while everyone was sending Valentine's greetings to each other, giving flowers and candy or taking their friends and lovers to dinner, a 19 year old man walked on to a high school campus in Parkland, Florida and shot and killed seventeen people, injuring another 14. While that event happened, I was sitting here at my kitchen table writing about love.

I choose not to post the shooter's name. People like that want to be notorious and I will not enable that kind of a thrill, especially at the expense of people's lives. I spent this morning watching the news on line. I read articles and watched video from eight different news sources while I tried to understand what had happened. I went to both conservative and liberal news sites as well as news sites from two other countries, trying to get a balanced view of the events. My conclusion? There is no balanced point of view, no full explanation for what has happened or why this kind of violence seems to be escalating.

To get some background on school shootings in general, I went to Wikipedia. I decided to condense what I found to the years I was in public school, the years my children were in public school and 2018. There are news accounts of school shootings in the USA going back to 1764 when there was one incident. In the 19th century there were 28 incidents. In the 20th century there were 226 shootings.

From 1956 to 1969 There were 45 deaths in 24 incidents at public schools and universities in the USA. The worst of those events happened at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas on August 1st, 1966 when 17 people were killed and 31 injured when an engineering student shot from a tower, sniper style. From 1980 to 1994 (when my children were in public school) there were 83 people killed in 69 incidents.In this century to date there have been 212. In 2018 alone there have been 20 deaths in 7 incidents. These are death statistics only.  

Obviously there is an escalation over those years. So what is the common denominator. Why? If you want to ask the other questions that journalists used to be taught to ask; Who? What? When? Where? and, again, Why? But it should also be a set of questions that profilers are using to understand the possible reasons behind violence in schools. I don't know that any of these questions can completely stop shootings at school, but if there were more common knowledge maybe psychologists, school counselors, teachers and students could know a little more about what to look for.

I am not sure I condone the 'Just tell the teacher' idea but it does have to start somewhere. With this latest incident, when students were interviewed, they said that 'everyone' had joked about him being the one who would be most likely to shoot up the school. He had posts on social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram were mentioned in the articles) with violent threats and images, showing him with guns. He had been permanently expelled from the campus (there are more than 3000 students at this high school) for his violent behaviors. And he was one of the students who had very few or, possibly, no friends. He was a complete loner. 

According to the articles and interviews I saw this morning, he did have a place to live. He and his younger brother had been taken in by friends of his Mother. She died last November of complications from pneumonia. His father had died several years previous to her death, of a heart attack. Both he and his brother were adopted. There is no information, so far, about his biological parents. The family he was staying with knew about his gun. They had it in a locked gun safe. But he had the key. He had access to the gun as well as ammunition. 

These family friends had helped him to get some counseling. Reports about that were conflicting but he was no longer in counseling as of yesterday. There were security officers on campus although none of them were armed. And there was some camera surveillance. The school had conducted numerous fire drills as well as active shooter drills, trying to keep students and faculty aware of the the possibility of a shooter on campus, a sad affidavit to the present century. Unfortunately the perpetrator of this crime used the fire drill protocols to bring students and faculty out of the class rooms to give him easier to access to possible victims. So far there is no information about whether there was any one person or group he was trying to harm. He was found and taken in to custody about an hour later.

The family he was staying with have been very cooperative with the police, giving full access to their home voluntarily. It is a cordoned off crime scene.

But the questions still remain unanswered. I watched professionals, psychologists, police officers, news broadcasters talking about possible reasons but all of them were vague. Since I'm not a journalist, politician or in any of the above categories of professionals, I have questions that I wish were being explored. 

The type of gun he used was an AR-15. It costs anywhere from about $600 to $2500 depending on the company it's made by. Rounds (bullets) cost $0.50 to $0.25 each or an average of $120 for 500 rounds. In my book that's a lot of money. Even if he bought the lowest end rifle at $600 and spent $120 for 500 rounds (police officers said that there were 'many, many rounds') that means he had to have access to at least $720 plus tax. He also had to pass background inspections. He was 19 years old and legal age is 18 to buy that kind of rifle. 

There was no information about whether he had any kind of job. Living with friends of the family he probably was not paying for rent, food, utilities. He did have access to a car but, again, there is no information about what he was responsible for financially. My first questions would be, "Where did he get the money to buy that kind of gun? Where was he going to practice using it? How much did the possible gun range cost? Who was his instructor? " 

Why did he have access to the gun safe if he was known to have anger management issues to an extent that he was expelled from school? (I have no doubt the family friends who tried to help him are torturing themselves with that question) And why was his violent past not on a registry for the gun shop to see? I know that, presently, there is no list for that. Why not? Shouldn't those questions be raised? If there is a sexual predator list, a convicted felon list, a dishonorable discharge list (from the military) then why isn't there a list of people with violent tendencies? 

Attorneys would argue that is unconstitutional. And, again, I do have reservations about a possible list. But if a person is so violent they are in counseling and have been expelled from school for those reasons, shouldn't the questions be raised? At least there would have been a delay in the purchase of the gun.

I listened to people get angry and rant, add in politics, and post about fear and sadness today. I didn't hear anyone ask the questions I wanted to have answers to. 

Was he on any prescribed medications? Was he taking or using any street drugs? Did he have any addictions? Was he drunk? When he was taken to the hospital they must have taken blood samples. I hope the information from those samples is, at the least, sent to police and federal authorities to begin the process of building a profile and adding to past violent crimes on school grounds. But I would also like to know if anyone is doing a study about the possible 'chemical soup' that we are all exposed to. Is it affecting our behaviors, especially of the males of our species? The vast majority, more than 98% of the shooters, were male. 

I hope that there will be someone delving in to his background as much as possible and that information is added to the vaults of information about people who commit these crimes. Was he abused during his childhood? He obviously was not popular while in school. His peer group rejected him. Was he severely bullied in either real life or on the virtual, social media platforms? And if so, what is the trigger? Why are these events happening more and more frequently? What has changed since 1956, when I added the statistics together? (I choose that as a starting date to compare my school years, my children's school years to this century and the present year) If you go to the Wiki list, there is an increase in the numbers of killing that becomes increasingly evident towards the last ten years of the twentieth century. 

How do statistics of single parent households in 1956 compare to the present numbers? (My questions will make some people angry when they read them but they are relevant if you are looking at statistics and trying to build profiles.) How many of the perpetrators of these crimes were born with fetal alcohol syndrome or addicted to drugs at birth? Did they have any past head injuries? Were any of them diagnosed with any kind of psychological syndrome? And what kind? 

Does location have anything to do with these killings? Do they happen more often in densely populated cities or small country towns? Was there any kind of support system in place to influence the shooter while they grew up? Had they recently lost a job? Were they homeless? 

What was their overall diet? We are what we eat. I know this is an unexpected question but it does affect the outcome of blood tests and what chemistry is going on inside the body and brain of the person with the gun. Was there a tumor in the brain? 

I never see any of these questions addressed publicly. I hope there are medical and coroner personnel looking in to this kind of information. And I wish it were available for people like me, who have a hundred questions. 

Occasionally I will hear a vague mention about the violent video games, TV and movie programs that are so easily accessible to our children. The games you see available for anyone to buy were originally developed to train snipers and other highly specialized soldiers for combat. They are desensitizing people to violent acts. While soldiers were being trained for WWOne they could not bring themselves to actually fire point blank at an 'enemy' soldier. By the Viet Nam war they were able to fire point blank more than 80% of the time without hesitation. What had changed? TV, movies and the shape of the paper targets they were being trained with. 

There is further disconnect being caused by the heavy use of smart phones at earlier and earlier ages with the incidence of suicide and depression increasing in our children's peer groups that coincides with the use of these computers we all carry with us now, in our pockets. If the shooter had a smart phone, I hope the number of hours he spent using it to access the internet and social media platforms is taken note of. Certainly the numbers of school shootings is raising along with the use of these phones in general.

My point to this post is that no one seems to be willing to look in to any of these questions in depth to see if there is any relevance. I know that we all wish it were more difficult to buy weapons. I do know that when I was growing up we were all taught gun safety rules and how to shoot accurately. But that had more to do with hunting which was still part of the traditions of my grandparent's lives. My grandfather hunted and fished to supplement his family's diet especially during the Depression. We all learned to use a rifle and knife, how to dress whatever we had shot or caught on a fishing line. But it was taught to us with great care and respect for the tools and weapons too. It wasn't treated like a toy. And the animals that were taken for the table were also treated with respect. The connection to family, community and nature were still very much in place.

I don't know what the answers are to what is happening in our schools, cities and country. It isn't just happening here in the USA either. Violence seems to be escalating world wide. I am deeply saddened and frightened by all of it. 

Do I have any answers? All I can do is work on myself. I choose to be kind, to help where I can, to see the events in our world from as balanced a perspective as possible. I do believe in the power of language and words, art, music and most of all, love. I'd like to think that when something nice is done somewhere that there is a ripple effect that moves outward, like a rock thrown in to a pond. 

I don't know what the answer to the larger question is, the one that asks how can violence on our school grounds be stopped. I fervently believe in education as a way to improve a student's prospects in life. But I wish there were more information about improving relationships between students and their peers, faculty members. I wish there were more classes in good nutrition, school gardens being grown where children can be part of the process of producing their own food sources as well as how to prepare those foods. I wish plastics were stopped all together, none being used anywhere. I remember no plastics in food production or storage when I was a child. If it worked then, why not now? 

I wish there were warnings on the labels of the violent video games and perhaps even an age limit for buying them, like there is in the movie industry. Why don't games have PG, PG 13 and X ratings? And I wish the background checks to buy guns was deeper and more thorough. Why are any semi automatic rifles for sale? What do we need them for? No one has ever answered that question for me either.

And then there's drugs and the prolific use of them in our children's age groups. Why are they needed? Instead how about giving the children more time outside, in nature. Has anyone thought of a possible school with animal husbandry included in the curriculum? Why not have children help to care for chickens, pigs, cattle, horses, dogs and cats. What would it be like if every class room had it's own 'service' dog or cat? Children who don't have the opportunity to help care for animals at home might benefit from learning how to be empathetic and compassionate with animals. And what about chores? Are teachers still giving children responsibilities in the classroom, like cleaning blackboards, handing out assignments, being responsible for keeping their desks neat and tidy, sweeping the floor? Are there any programs in place to help children understand the harm that is done when mistreatment or bullying of their peers happens? 

My questions range far and wide here. No doubt I will anger some people who read this. But I think creative problem solving is something we all need to use together to, hopefully, help to find solutions to prevention of crimes in our schools. It only takes one or two mentors to make a difference in a student's life. 

I've added links to a couple of TED Talks here. There are more available on Youtube. If nothing else I hope my endless questions here have shaken your 'box' just enough to get you to ask your own questions. We all live inside our own tightly constructed pathways. Maybe I will knock you off your comfort zone just enough to begin the process of serious discussions about the " Who? What? When? Where? Why? " of how this is happening to our schools. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, pondering


Unknown said...

Thank you. All valid questions, especially when it comes to toxins in the environment, drugs, and artificial foods. You bring up so many potential causes of the escalating violence in our world. Thank you for making us think.

Nancy, smiling! said...

Hi Sno! I wish more of the legitimate news sources would address the ideas I've put out here. I'm guessing it has to do with who buys advertising with their various companies.

Thank you for saying something. I appreciate it. I saw images of some of the young people who went to school thinking about papers they needed to turn in, tests to study for and whether that cute guy (or girl) in the next row over in class has noticed them. And then they're gone. I can not imagine their family's pain.

I'm spending more and more time with my horses and dogs these days.

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