Editor’s Note: In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, writer Janelle Harris summarized the shock and horror many of us felt. Read her thoughts from Friday and leave your own comments below.
Initially, I started to write something for my blog that seems so unimportant now I don’t even want to mention it. At this moment, CNN is reporting that at least 10 children have been shot at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The pictures, the few that have leaked into national press as the story continues to unfold, are heartbreaking—teachers trying to lead obviously terrified children to safety, wherever that is these days, and attempting to facilitate some kind of order in the midst of the chaos manufactured by a lunatic.
Of course, he is dead. As these kinds of scenarios increase in frequency, the people who are at the root of them rarely live to be penalized for their actions, get confronted with the devastation they strategically orchestrate or even have to answer why they would do such an evil thing in the first place. They get to check out, exit on their own terms with their dirt already done and leave more victims than the ones who are at the scene of the anarchy. They rob the families, the citizens of the communities, even the rest of us around the country, because inasmuch as we hear people marveling about something like that happening in their own backyards, we have to know by now that these outbreaks can spark any damn where.
Earlier today, 22 children were also attacked at a primary school in central China, except they were stabbed. Many of them are in critical condition, though no one is reportedly dead. But anyone who knows anything about violent crime knows that stabbing is personal. It’s up close, it’s messy, it’s graphic. The jerk who did it has since been detained. But that’s the scariest thing—two people so overcome with hate and depravity were walking around among us until this morning, just another set of average joes until they added their names to the annals of infamy for harming innocent people en masse and chipping off another piece of our sense of security.
It used to be convenient to assign violent crime to metropolitan areas and steer clear of those streets because that’s where that kind of danger lived in some folks’ minds. So they fled to the suburbs and stayed sheltered there, secure in their buffer from the crazies in the city. My mama was one of those urban defectors who sought refuge in campestral living. Now it’s everywhere—and maybe, on a smaller scale, it always was—cropping up in malls and movie theaters and kindergarten classrooms, in New York and D.C. and Philly but also small towns most of us have never heard of until this kind of news unfortunately breaks. Anyone, anywhere, anytime. Unchecked violence is a social pandemic.
We send our kids to school just assuming they’ll be safe once they get there. We scold them about watching out for strangers, remind them to look both ways before they cross the street, but then some psycho comes in the school and it’s the one thing we just never seem prepared for. I wouldn’t know what to do in that situation, much less expect a 6 or 7 or 8-year-old to. Even my 14-year-old, who’s in class right now, she wouldn’t know what to do. I helped her study for a math test last night, but I certainly didn’t drill her in case a gunman storms in through the front door and starts going ballistic. It’s a parent’s nightmare.
Now’s not the time to launch into long, fiery I-told-you-so’s about gun control. It’s not even the time to plug the reinstallation of prayer in public schools. Those arguments have been preached and rebutted and will probably be at the root of debate forever. They’re never going to go away because people are too passionate on both sides to concede. Neither one will enable us to smoke out these psychos who plan to go into public institutions and anticipate their potential to launch bloody attacks. At this point, we don’t know what the solution is.
I’m just praying. It’s all I can do. If you believe in a higher power, I encourage you to pray, too. Pray for the children who lost their lives and the families who, during the holiday season, have to see gifts for kids who now will not be there to squeal and fawn all over them. Pray that we can pay closer attention to people who seem to need help and that, even ever-so-inadvertently, we can say something that propels them to seek help. Pray that, in the bustle of our day-to-day lives, we really can take the time to appreciate each other and express that appreciation, especially to our children, just in case it’s someone we love being caught in the crosshairs of some madman’s master plan.