by Rabbi David Basior
When my dad texted me “School shooting at Stoneman Douglas today” at 2:13pm PST on February 14, 2018, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was busy. I had meetings and deadlines. I couldn’t be bothered. Over an hour later, I replied: “Wow.” “I know, police just reported, 17 killed,” he got back to me immediately.
I still remember the day my brother told me he wore a bulletproof vest to school – the same school – Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – in January 1998. He had heard rumors that he was going to get shot at by a member of an opposing crew.
He got punched and beat up that day but was not shot at, thank G-d.
Last week, though, 17 students and teachers were shot and killed on that same high school campus in Parkland, Florida. The same small suburban enclave where I lived from 1994-1999. The same small neighborhood where I had my first job working at the local Publix supermarket.
As an alumnus of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it would be easy for me to hop on the bandwagon of calls for gun control and mental health care. I graduated from MSD (go Eagles!) in 1997, marched in the marching band, played in the jazz band, and grew from an adolescent to a young adult on the campus of this large, suburban, highly segregated public school.
Gun control is certainly an important topic. Yes, let’s have fewer guns. Let’s have an economy that doesn’t make money off of weapons and killing. Let’s put limits on guns that the free market cannot by itself.
But Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Florida shooter, is not just a 19-year old with a semi-automatic weapon. He either is, or is not, a White Supremacist, but he is certainly a White male, deeply confused and deeply hurt.
So yes, let’s limit guns. But can we do so in ways that do not perpetuate the racism that undergirds the criminal justice system? A system that highly disproportionately incriminates and incarcerates Black people, Latinx people, and Muslim people? Can we legislate away guns designed for killing multiple humans “more effectively” in a way that will also address the inequity in our systems of enforcement?
While stronger gun control laws are necessary, we cannot legislate away hate. Taking away guns, while a good start for ending mass shootings, will not end all violence and killing. To create real safety, it is the dehumanization of one to another that we must root out. If we focus only on the tools people use to kill, then we will watch the gun debate devolve and violence remain. While we work to limit automatic and semiautomatic guns, while we work to make sure guns are out of the hands of domestic abusers and children, while we work to change the economic incentives for selling more tools of human carnage, let us also root out the racism, sexism, poverty, Islamophobia, antisemitism, ableism, transphobia and homophobia that fuels the hate that convinces someone to kill.
We know that the vast majority of the mass shooters are white men. White men who are confused into believing they are better than others, that they have been cheated from their rightful place at the top of the pyramid, that they have been wronged by immigrants and women and people of color and Jews and Muslims, etc. Racism and poverty feeds this cycle which will continue to produce more and more militant hateful white men who hate everyone else until they are so tricked into killing again and again.
It finally happened in a place I know and love.
I still remember where I was when I saw the news of Columbine. I still remember where I was when I heard the news of Sandy Hook. But in both these instances, I remained unmoved. Busy. So despairing that anything would change that I didn’t even take up the fight. And now, it has happened in the halls where I became an adult. Where I still have friends and teachers. And I am forced to ask: how long until it happens in the halls of my children’s school?
Will this be the last one? The likely and sobering answer is “probably not.” But perhaps we can work to make this a decisive turning point that causes the end to come. This phenomenon is finite. Let’s just help see it to its obvious conclusion before everyone I know has had their old – or current – school shot up.
Here’s my ask: participate with all your heart, all your soul, and all your resources to put in place legislation to end the sale of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. To keep guns out of the hands of children. To keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. You know, the obvious stuff we should already have in place. And do not stop there. Meet your neighbors and take responsibility for them for the rest of their and your lives. We. Must. Care. For. One. Another.
When people have found out that this shooting happened at my old school, they have said to me “I’m so sorry.” While this event definitely has felt more “close to home” than any other school shooting in my life and I am grieving in a new way over this particular shooting, my response so far has been “So am I.” And for me, this is an admission of responsibility. I am not guilty of the Parkland, Florida shooting, but, I am responsible. We are all responsible for this and for the next one as well. Let’s get to work.
Rabbi David Basior serves as rabbi and education director of the Kadima Reconstructionist Community in Seattle, WA at www.kadima.org.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Fabrice Florin