It has happened again. A school shooting that has left a community in agony and a country demanding answers. 17 people murdered and thousands of others whose emotional lives will never be the same.
Once again, the country is asking good, important questions. Once again, there is a crescendo demanding that action happen.
Action needs to happen, but it needs to focus on the real problem.
Mass shootings, though horrific, are no different than any other type of violence. They, along with every rape, robbery, burglary, DUI crash, drug deal, and hate crime are a symptom of a darker problem. Only psychopaths are born to inflict harm, sociopaths are created.
Created – as in their environment and upbringing. Created – as in there IS something you and I can do about this.
Where do we start? The first step is to show up, educated, in your local polling place on election day. It doesn’t feel like much, but in reality it is the crux of how all our laws are created, and in the case of judges, enforced. Voting is the greatest power a citizen can wield to help mold and direct a nation. In 2016, arguably one of the most heated years ever for presidential candidates in the US, only 55.7% of registered voters actually voted. Compare this number to other industrialized countries like Belgium (87.2%), Sweden (82.6%), and Denmark (80.3%) and we can see we are woefully behind. Every missing vote is a missed opportunity for using our voice and our power.
However, voting alone is clearly not enough. Before we ever set foot into our election site, we need to do our homework and not just on the heated topics such as gun control. It’s easy to know where people stand on topics that receive lots of press time on the news and in our social media feeds. Instead, we need to educate ourselves on the more subtle topics, the ones that are actually driving the problems in society.
We need to be voting for people who understand the dynamics of domestic violence and the importance of addressing it on a systemic level. Once again, we are hearing reports that the gunman was “troubled,” known to be “volatile,” and may have been abusive to his girlfriend. We now know that authorities responded over 35 times to the house of Nikolas Cruz and that he was expelled from school, killed animals, and was aggressive to others in his neighborhood. These are all warning signs that were either patently ignored or dealt with in a silo. Somehow, they were not linked together to compel anyone to do anything truly transformative in the lives of these individuals. We have to stop pretending that what is happening in the privacy of our homes will not have an impact on our public streets. Until we truly embrace this concept, we can anticipate more of the same.
We know that domestic violence is a learned behavior, and thanks to ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study), we know that children who experience trauma are at a disadvantage compared to those who do not experience trauma. Exposure to trauma increases the risk of engaging in harm behaviors, and harm behaviors should be a cry for help. ACES flips the question from saying, “Why did you do that?” to “What happened to you?” If we want to get serious about stopping school shootings, we have to be willing to educate ourselves on the candidates who are forward thinking enough to create budgets that put more emphasis on people rather than roads, who are courageous enough to overhaul our very broken systems, and who are brave enough to put action behind the words that our children are our future. We need people who understand that the best solution begins with identifying families in crisis and then doing something about it. We need better paid positions for social workers and school counselors, and we need more of them in the communities and schools to provide support for these families
But there is something else we must do. If we are going to be authentic and true about how we are going to do this, each of us must get involved. This is not someone else’s problem to fix. It is our problem. We are the ones turning a blind eye to the fact that 1 in 3 women are, as you read this, living in domestic violence and many of them have children who are watching and learning. We are the ones turning a blind eye to the fact that we have 25% of our female population being sexually assaulted, most frequently by someone they know, before they turn 18. We are the ones turning a blind eye to the fact that if we don’t expect accountability, not just punishment, from offenders, we will only get more victimizers because 95% are returning to our streets.
Who is responsible for the shootings? I am. You are. We are. If I want to end the violence, I must roll up my sleeves and do something. I must get involved with organizations who pour into broken families and kids and show them that there is a different option than violence. I must approach my local domestic violence shelter and offer to lead a class to teach the women about building their self-esteem and self-worth. I must connect with my local child advocacy center and learn about ways to provide support to our youngest sexual assault victims. I must volunteer in my school to relieve them of some of the burden, for at least a moment, of being the only eyes and ears in a classroom of 20. I must be willing to give…of my time and my money…to support these places who are doing good work but cannot do it alone.
This plan is hard. Much harder than arguing over whether guns should be banned or not. This plan requires sacrifice and maybe even some tears. But it is this plan that will produce kids who are resilient and kids who know that they have value which means that other people, and their kids, have value too and that no act of violence should be perpetrated against any of them.
Find your voice and join us.
Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims
Contact Valerie at firstname.lastname@example.org