On Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. Witnesses identified Nikolas Cruz, an expelled, 19-year-old student, as the assailant.
In respect for the victims, I will refer to the assailant here only as the shooter.
In the weeks after the shooting, the nation wondered why it happened and how it could have been prevented. There was a push for more gun control, with some Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students becoming the face of the movement. There was an emphasis on mental health. There was talk about how the impact of violent television programs and video games was largely underestimated.
People questioned if the police had grossly mishandled this case. Questions about the FBI came up. There were even discussions about the fire alarm, metal detectors, and the arming of teachers. These were all valid inquiries and certainly worth looking into. School shootings are a multifaceted problem, and to prevent them in the future, we need to examine all causes.
There is a new book called “Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students” by Andrew Pollack, father of one of the murdered students, and Max Eden, an education expert at a New York City-based think tank. The stated goal of the book is to take an objective look at the tragedy.
Certainly, the authors were not looking for easy answers. They didn’t just blame an inanimate object, the gun, for example. Their explanation for this approach was simple. When the shooter bought his guns, he had a totally clean record. How did a youth have a clean record despite 45 police visits to his home? The police relied on a politically correct policy to reduce juvenile arrests, which allowed the shooter to keep his record clean, and also allowed him to buy a gun.
In 4 Parts
The first part of the book tells the stories of Pollack’s new friends as they coped with the tragedy and helped him in his mission to expose everything that contributed to the disaster. They included a teacher; another parent, who came to the United States from Venezuela to keep his children safe (only for his son to be shot five times in school and, incredibly, survive); a student journalist; and Pollack’s co-author, who worked with education policy.
As I read, I felt like these were characters in a Shakespearean tragedy. The term “catharsis” popped into my head because their stories were so raw and gritty. Too often, people undergoing tragedies grow numb to their feelings so that they don’t experience vulnerability. But not here.
The second part of the book informs readers about the shooter’s life, starting from his birth to the actual crime. His life resembled that of the Joker in the currently popular movie. The Joker has been described as living in a world which was “a cartoonishly dark and uncaring place, an almost comically vile carnival where the protagonist can’t find a hint of comfort or relief.”
Pollack says that mental health authorities refused to institutionalize the shooter three different times—when he was suicidal, threatening to kill, and obsessed with buying a gun—in the name of civil liberty.
Pollack labels the system that enabled the shooter as even sicker than the shooter was.
The third part of the book focuses on the Broward schools. In the 2011–2012 period, Broward County had the highest number of student arrests in Florida. Robert Runcie, the superintendent, stated that this was because of institutional racism. He started a program called Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (PROMISE) to break the pipeline from school to prison, and, as a consequence, police were prevented from getting involved in incidents that they previously handled.
Soon after the PROMISE program began, the Obama administration got involved. A “Dear Colleague Letter” was sent out advising school superintendents nationwide that racial disparities in suspension rates would be grounds for finding school districts in violation of federal anti-discrimination law, and therefore at risk of losing federal funding.
As a result, discipline was curtailed. In order to discipline a student, tons of documentation were required, plus teachers were told directly or were subtly pressured to avoid sending students for punishment so that the school’s image would be untarnished. Arrests plummeted, but the behavior did not change. Instead, a culture of leniency took hold.
The fourth part of the book is about the “Fight to #Fixit.” Pollack and his group fought hard to get their school board candidate elected. They believed that he was the perfect choice to change the Broward schools, and they explained to voters how the school district had failed, covered up its failure, and was not taking school safety seriously.
Even in the wake of the murders, the Broward residents did not vote those responsible out of office. The complacency of the Broward officials was only overshadowed by the apathy of the broader community that refused to hold these officials accountable.
Pollack made his point: The sacrifices of the murdered and injured victims were ignored and the current student population would now more likely be exposed to further, preventable risk. A dangerous precedent had been set.
Pollack’s friend Ann Miller said, “We hear about school shootings and external threats, but as horrific as they are, if you take the cumulative effect, I think that it pales in comparison to the daily instances of bullying, assaults, and violence that occur in every school across the country.”
Readers, beware. What happened in Broward County could happen elsewhere. Those victimized in the Parkland shooting acted as canaries in the coal mine. Laura Ingraham, an American conservative who is currently a television host on Fox News, expressed it well when saying, “By turning Broward schools and those across the nation into these social justice petri dishes, they may have facilitated a lunatic.” She said that many schools across the nation have already been turned into social justice petri dishes. Constant vigilance is needed to stop the politically correct policies from ruining the school near you.
Don’t Let Our Children Down
As a retired teacher of 45 years, I can attest that schools are changing. I am utterly disheartened by the simplistic thinking of faceless bureaucrats who embrace detrimental policies or who are more concerned with reputation than children’s lives. When, for example, did discipline become a form of abuse? Effective discipline helps children learn to control their behavior.
The PROMISE program has proven itself to be ineffectual because it hasn’t been used in addition to punishment but usually as a substitute. Remember that school punishments—that is, suspensions and expulsions—are only authorized for serious matters such as alcohol-related incidents, assault, using threat, drugs, bullying, and so on. These serious issues should not be ignored or covered up.
Yet teachers, who next to parents care most about their pupils, are being called racist when they write referrals on students outside their race—a complete betrayal of common sense!
True nondiscriminatory policies would treat all children equally. What about having a standard that all children can live up to, rather than saying that all black children are victims and can’t rise above their circumstances? A policy that treats students of one race one way and others differently is a policy that promotes rather than diminishes the racial divide.
What about Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that this nation would judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? Have we completely abandoned this worthy goal?
This book needs to be read. Will it? Because the authors do not blame guns, because the authors look at the bureaucratic illnesses that allow a damaged child to hurt other children, because the authors take issue with a policy that hides discrimination behind a mask of justice, this book isn’t getting the kind of coverage it deserves.
Nonetheless, this book needs to be read.
‘Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students’
Andrew Pollack and Max Eden
Post Hill Press
336 pages, hardcover
Linda Wiegenfeld suggests the following nonpolitical website to learn more about children’s safety. It is called Americans for Children’s Lives and School Safety.
She can be reached for comments or suggestions at LWiegenfeld@aol.com