Several weeks ago we woke up to learn there had been another shooting in Chattanooga and the next day there were two paragraphs on the fourth page of the newspaper. It has become so common we as a society have grown numb to it and, when a teen-aged girl in Texas said she wasn’t surprised last week when eight students and two teachers were massacred in her school some 30 miles outside of Houston, it made me want to weep.
So let’s go back to Jim Hammond's’ office a couple of months ago. I am sitting with the Hamilton County sheriff and several of his top staff and Hammond, who takes a pragmatic approach to problems that has resulted in making our Sheriff’s Department easily one of the best in the United States, said, “I’ll tell you what we need more than anything … counselors in the schools.”
With the glare of school massacres still bright, Hammond and his command staff are actively seeking School Resource Officers for every school but not a one will be more effective “than a person kids can befriend, talk to about what bothers them, and why some are scared."
“I get really excited when I hear how the SROs enjoy today’s students. I am even prouder when I learn the kids enjoy our officers,” Hammond explained. “Not just any officer can be assigned to a school. It takes a special person who loves kids. Once a trust is developed, it’s a win-win situation. Too often we read about fights in the newspaper, or drugs being found, but what you never hear about is almost every day is peaceful and rewarding to our SROs and the students alike.”
Yet the sheriff will tell you that is not the biggest part of the puzzle. For example, just hours after the Santa Fe High School shooting, television station KRIV interviewed an 11thgrader – Dustin Severin – in a live shot. The key here is Dustin wasn’t coached, influenced by what somebody else may have said, but responded with exactly what a school counselor would have also known about Dimitrious Pagourtiz - that the shooter had been constantly and emotionally bullied all year. Hello!
"I know he's picked on by coaches and other students. He didn't really talk to anyone," he told the news reporter. "My friends from the football team told me that coaches said he smelled (bad) … like, right in front of his face. And other kids would look at him and laugh at him ... nothing like physical but they still emotionally bullied him."
"I never thought he would just snap and shoot up the school," Severin told KRIV. "He didn't seem like he was a hateful person."
The sheriff said that recognizing and identifying a problem is far and away the best solution. “Stop it and fix it before it ever happens,” said Hammond. The sheriff and every member of his staff scoff at taking away guns. It will never happen. Pagourtiz had a .38-caliber pistol and a shotgun – both belonging to his father – in his rampage. For the record, I have both in my home right now.
Listen to Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “Texas Republicans look at this tragedy and they do not see the gun as the problem. They see the person (shooter) as the problem and security as the second problem.”
That’s the only answer. We have over 50 million students grades K-12 in the United States. In Texas there are over 5 million students and to put an airport sensor at every door so each child can be monitored is cost-prohibitive. The ready answer is to stagger starting times for each child of different classes (sophomores, junior, and seniors) so that each child can be frisked – who among us wants that?
The only answer is to meet every student where they are … not where we are. In recent years, there has been an absurd uptake in depression – it has increased over 30 percent in America. It is obvious our children are affected by it and, rather than dawdle with socio-economic integration, we would do far better by focusing on both the hopes and the fears of children mired in our poverty schools.
What we must do is focus on the person. Pagourtiz was text book – no friends, bullied, “You smell bad.” Assault rifles? He used common guns. A hundred-dollar bill and I can have one left on your front porch by dawn the next morning. The state of Texas has a colorful history with firearms but this is not the answer at all. It is identifying those who suffer from hurt, pain, mental illness, and doing something about it before it is manifested in the very worst way.
Every school needs a counselor now. Demand counselors at all schools or be ready to join the chorus of the not surprised.
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TWICE AS MANY KIDS IN THE UNITED STATES AS SOLDIERS
Since January 1 of this year, there have been twice as many school children massacred in the United States than members of our armed forces in foreign combat zones. As of this minute, 26 children and three adults have been slaughtered by crazy people who invaded their schools this year. Dozens more suffer from traumatic injuries.
In the same time frame, U.S. combat troops are on two battlefields. This year 11 soldiers have been killed in Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes anti-ISIS efforts in Iraq and Syria; and two military fatalities have been reported from Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which includes military activities in Afghanistan.
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OUR SCHOOL SHOOINGS THUS FAR INTO 2018
* -- Benton, Ky., Jan. 23, 2018: 2 students killed
* -- Parkland, Fla., Feb. 14, 2018: 14 students killed
* -- Birmingham, Ala., March 7, 2018: 1 student killed
* -- Great Mills, Md., March 20, 2018: 1 student killed
* -- Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018: 8 students killed
Total: 26 students killed in school shootings through May 18, 2018. (Including the adults killed would raise the count to 31 total fatalities.)