Thinking and grieving at the same time

I almost posted this as a comment on a friend’s Facebook post on the Uvalde, Texas shooting after my wife left a comment on it.

But it turned out too long, and I felt leaving it could be construed as an attempt to hijack the thread, so I decided to post it here. It’s not the final word on mass shootings by any stretch, just matters to think about. My wife and I are the parents of a police officer, and when horrific events occur, we think of him and grieve for both the victims and their families and the first responders, both of us dying in spirit, piece by piece, each time.

May God have mercy on our souls, both the living and the dead:

“It is vitally important for investigations into the tactics of law enforcement (LE), together with the collection of the specifics of this particular situation, to play out fully before drawing conclusions on exactly what happened. We must have both the courage and coordination to think and grieve at the same time.

“Snippets of information here and there put out by media outlets on the fly without all the necessary context, confusing police press conferences given by officers who themselves do not yet have all the facts and are crushed by these events like everyone else, and heart-rending videos of parents outside the school are powerful pieces of information and images, but ultimately not sound bases on which to draw rapid and accurate conclusions on exactly how this horrific tragedy played out.

“In the wake of Columbine, “Immediate action rapid deployment” (IARD) has been taught to police, i.e., officers are trained to go toward the sound of shots (not always easy to locate) and attempt to engage the shooter with whatever arms they have prior to backup or arrival of special tactics team on the chance that they can disable a shooter and prevent further injury and loss of life.

“IARD might work if the shooter is still in open space, on the move, and officers can gain clear, or mostly clear, sight lines on the shooter. If the shooter on the other hand is heavily armed and outfitted with body armor, has moved unengaged into an unlocked building though a side or back door and quickly moved to a room (or adjacent rooms with a connecting door), killed or gravely wounded most of his victims very quickly, and then barricaded himself inside, as may have happened here, then IARD tactics don’t work as well.

“If there is a sole barricaded door, then officers without tactical gear, heavy armament to match or exceed the shooters, and ballistic shields who try to breach a door are likely going in blind and overmatched, not knowing where the shooter is positioned and whether he is using hostages as human shields. It is not simply a matter of “using a janitor’s key” to open the door, as one of my understandably angry and distraught friends with elementary-age school children put it, and running inside to take out a shooter.

(Update 4:00 pm 5/27/22 and also 6/8/22: A master key was apparently used to open the classroom door by the U.S. Border Patrol tactical team, armed with ballistic shield, which ultimately entered the classroom and killed the shooter who was hiding in a closet and emerged firing. It is unclear why a key was needed to open the door, but knocking down a locked door, even if it’s glass window is broken, and entering with enough momentum and force to get the job done without further loss of life of innocents, is more difficult than depicted on TV and movies, especially if you may not have the proper means and “trying to kick it in,” likely to take more than one try, gives the shooter advanced warnings of your approach. Under much pressure for quick answers, a senior law enforcement officer has also said the decision to not breach the classroom door sooner was a “wrong decision” made by a local commander on the scene. I am reasonably confident that an ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation will more fully elucidate the details of this scenario and the reasons why police did not breach the classroom sooner, whether those reasons, taken together, adequately explain whether or not their decision were “right or wrong.”)

“There are far too many armchair police in these situations and far too few people who have the patience, given their understandable horror, pain, and anger, to suspend judgement until we know more. Chances are, multiple mistakes were made by LE that morning, and they will be vetted and addressed. There are may have been other contingencies that made a heroic rescue, which we all dream about and would have preferred, extremely difficult, with the high likelihood of the terrible trade-off of victims killed or injured by crossfire, if not next to impossible.

“We cannot forget root causes of these repetitive and unnecessary tragedies: lack of adequate mental health care in this country; the online radicalization of, mostly, young men by right wing extremist dogma and conspiracy theorists; a cultural fetish with guns; an unreasonable “expansion” of 2nd Amendment interpretation of individual citizen gun rights (extremely ironic given most “any sized gun and magazine goes” believers consider themselves “originalists” on just about everything else–can anyone say musket?); monied interests spending millions to guard the status quo; and the perpetuation of the logical fallacy of the “false dilemma”–either gun laws or “anything goes” versus the entirely reachable reality of both reasonable gun laws and responsible gun ownership–usually by those same monied interests.

“Barring a miraculous moment of mass repentance and action following this horrific incident, the fight to address and overcome these root causes remains a multigenerational battle, a long and difficult mud-saturated slog in the trenches. It will cost a lot of money, both to produce the necessary policy changes and then to fund them.

“Are we willing to pay the costs? It’s not just me asking the question. The victims, both living and dead, look on and wonder, too.

“Full disclosure: I am not in law enforcement and the only thing I know about guns is which end is which. I am the father of a police officer (now detective) who has already in his relatively short career been decorated for heroism in the line of duty and performed many other unknown and unpublicized acts in the hot, mean streets of his beat which prevented countless shootings, mayhem, and death from making the morning news. I have absorbed some information from my conversations with him about police training and the “real world” vagaries and knife-edge moments which he and his brothers and sisters in blue face every day.

“My son wakes up every morning thinking about these realities, wondering if he will “do the right thing” and the best he possibly can if his time to engage an active shooter should ever come (and he has been extremely close on numerous occasions).

“Unless tested, he will not know the answer for sure. He can only hope.”