Increased Policing Won't Stop The Next School Shooting

The police in Uvalde had all the resources Republicans say they need to prevent a mass shooting—but 19 children and their teachers still died this week.

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Stacy Lee Kong

May 27 2022

12 mins read

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Image: Getty Images

Content warning: This newsletter contains references to institutional racism, gun violence and death.

Before 1999, I don’t think I’d even imagined something like a school shooting. It was my last year of elementary school, and at that point, it had honestly never occurred to me that I could be shot and killed anywhere, least of all at school. Of course, that all changed on April 20, when two twelfth-graders murdered 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. Eight days later, it happened again, this time at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta. A 14-year-old former student entered the school armed with a semi-automatic rifle and opened fire, killing one student and injuring another.

And then it kept happening—a few more times in Canada and over and over again in the U.S. According to the Washington Post, there have been at least 331 school shootings in America since Columbine, including this week’s massacre at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, which is the 27th such attack to happen this year. With 19 students and two teachers dead and 17 others injured, the Uvalde attack is also the second-deadliest school shooting ever, after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. (If it seems like mass shootings, in general, are happening more often, that’s because they are. An FBI report released on Monday found “active shooter” incidents jumped more than 50% between 2020 and 2021. And that's following a 33% increase between 2019 and 2020.)

‎While mass shootings don’t all go viral (and there are layers to how bizarre that is) when they do, the discourse is infuriatingly predictable: renewed calls for stricter gun control laws from everyone with any sense and empathy, followed closely by the National Rifle Association and its cronies flooding social media with pro-gun propaganda. There’s usually some hypocritical blustering about thoughts and prayers from Republicans, who refuse to say anything that would jeopardize their campaign donations from the NRA, and corresponding toothless emotion, or worse, cowardly acquiescence/compromise from Democrats. And eventually, America always ends up at the same place: with ever-loosening gun laws and some bright star right-winger politician who thinks the solution to mass murder is the increasing militarization of American society.

I disagree, obviously. So, while it’s been some time since I’ve written about abolishing the police, I think it’s worth revisiting that conversation.

Spare me the ‘good guy with a gun’ BS, please

You wouldn’t know it by listening to Republicans talk right now, but the ridiculous NRA fantasy that “the only person who can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” has been disproven many times—in Parkland, Florida in 2018, when the armed guard at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School stayed outside in relative safety while a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 students and injured 17 others. And in Dayton, Ohio in 2019, when a 24-year-old gunman opened fire in the city’s Oregan District at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning, while police were patrolling the area. Officials said an officer killed the shooter 30 seconds after he fired his first shot—but he still managed to kill nine people and injure 27 others. And last week in Buffalo, when an armed guard unsuccessfully tried to stop an 18-year-old racist from killing 10 people, many of them senior citizens, at a Tops grocery store in a mostly-Black area of the city.

The data is particularly clear when these attacks happen at schools. Earlier this week, Slate writer Alex Yablon cited several studies that found when armed guards are present during school shootings, there’s no evidence they prevent gun violence. However, there is data that shows death rates in those shootings are almost three times higher than in attacks in schools without armed guards. Another study indicates it’s far more likely that an unarmed staff member, or even the shooter themselves, will end a school shooting over someone with a gun. This is because even very well-trained gun users struggle to hit their targets during chaotic situations like mass shootings. What's more, “winning a gunfight with a shooter only becomes more difficult when the perpetrator carries a semi-automatic rifle like an AR-15, as the Uvalde suspect and many others have done,” Yablon explained. “These weapons have a much longer range and are far more accurate than the kinds of pistols typically used by police and civilian concealed carriers, allowing shooters to keep responders far enough away that their own weapons will be of little use.”

This disadvantage will only be amplified if teachers are the ones who are expected to wield guns to protect their students. (Also, I’m not really clear on how would they even get guns?? Most school districts in America are chronically under-funded, to the tune of $150 billion, according to one study. Teachers have to buy their own pencil crayons and ask parents for Kleenex donations. Are they supposed to crowdsource weaponry, too? And that’s not even taking into account the fact that arming teachers effectively makes them targets.) But even trained police officers aren’t necessarily going to be able to swoop in and save the day. “RAND analysts have found that even highly trained NYPD officers only hit their intended target in 19 percent of gunfire exchanges,” Yablon pointed out. In fact, it’s usually only elite military or highly-trained law enforcement units that receive the type of training required to become reliable actors in these high-stress, close-quarters combat situations. That doesn’t just mean regular police officers may not be able to incapacitate the shooter; it also means there’s a not-insignificant chance they could shoot a victim. In fact, during a Thursday afternoon press conference, Texas law enforcement officials acknowledged this possibility when they said they believed all the victims were shot by the gunman, not anyone else. (That is, law enforcement.)

The Uvalde police department didn’t do enough to save those kids

‎But it’s slowly becoming clear that Uvalde wasn’t just a situation where cops weren’t capable of saving the victims’ lives. It also seems like they mishandled the entire situation, to the point where it’s fair to wonder if they deliberately chose not to act. With the caveat that police have been giving contradictory and confusing information concerning the timeline of the shooting, here’s what seems to have happened: Despite initial reports from police that they “rushed in” and engaged the shooter in a firefight before he entered the school, that was not the case. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Regional Director Victor Escalon said the shooter fired outside of the school for 12 minutes, then, at 11:40 a.m., "walked in unobstructed initially… he was not confronted by anybody." From there, the shooter entered a classroom, barricaded the doors and opened fire.

According to CNN, “officers arrived at the school at 11:44 a.m., but when they went to confront the gunman, they received fire and took cover… They called for more resources and personnel, evacuated students and teachers in other parts of the school, and at some point entered ‘negotiations’ with the suspect. [After about an hour,] a US Border Patrol tactical team came to the classroom, forced entry and fatally shot the suspect.”

‎As soon as they heard about the shooting, parents raced to the school, where they found police milling about outside. When they begged the officers to enter the school and save their children, they were rebuffed. When they then demanded to be allowed to enter the building themselves, police physically restrained them, sometimes tackling people and pinning them to the ground, other times handcuffing them. Worse, in an interview with a local journalist, a DPS lieutenant seemingly confirmed that some of the officers and Border Patrol agents who entered the school did so to rescue their own children—and that this happened before they tried to apprehend the shooter.

Then, when law enforcement did eventually enter the classroom where the shooter was barricaded (after needing help to open the door), they may have caused him to shoot his final victim. A fourth-grader who survived the shooting told San Antonio TV station KENS-5 that when the police came, they instructed the kids to shout if they needed help before disabling the gunman. “One of the persons in my class said 'help.' The guy overheard and he came in and shot her. The cop barged into that classroom. The guy shot at the cop. And the cops started shooting,” the little boy said.

Does literally any of that sound like the result of hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment? Or high-quality training? Or even like these people care about the stated motto of their profession? Because that’s not what I’m getting. Instead, this sounds like the actions of a group of people who care more about their own skins than the community they’ve sworn to serve and protect. It didn't help to hear DPS lieutenant Chris Olivarez tell CNN host Wolf Blitzer that officers hesitated to engage the shooter because "they could have been shot." (Though, to be fair, the U.S. Supreme Court did rule in 2005 that police do not actually have a constitutional duty to protect people from harm, so I guess this tracks.)

What are the police even for, if not saving children’s lives?

‎There’s no reason this massacre should have happened. And I don’t mean that only in an ‘in a just world, this wouldn’t happen’ kind of way. I mean, according to Republicans, the way to prevent school shootings is to “harden” schools by implementing security features and installing armed guards. But Robb Elementary had those features. The school district doubled its security budget in recent years and adopted all sorts of safety measures: It employs “threat assessment teams” and uses a program called Social Sentinel to scan social media for potential threats. It has access to dogs trained to detect drugs, alcohol, ammunition, firearms and gunpowder. There are motion detectors and alarm systems. Robb is one of three schools in the district with perimeter fencing. There’s a locked classroom door policy. Most importantly, the district has both its own four-person police department and close ties with local law enforcement, who are invited to drop in for complimentary breakfast and lunch while on patrol. Also, Uvalde Police Department is remarkably well-funded, considering they serve a city of about 16,000 people. According to Esquire, “Uvalde spent 40 percent of its budget on its police force last year. In January, the Uvalde P.D. got a half-million dollars from Governor Greg Abbott’s ‘Operation Lone Star,’ a program designed to show how tough Abbott is on border issues.” The city even has a S.W.A.T. team.

And yet, 19 children and two adults are dead.

‎The irony is, in addition to all of the data that says armed guards don’t prevent school shootings, we also know that police officers in schools don’t make students safer, in general. They may actually make them less safe. According to a 2020 issue brief from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, the presence of these in-school officers (who are called school resource officers or SROs) is associated with higher rates of suspensions and expulsions. SROs infringe on students’ civil rights. They arrest students, which leads to worse schooling outcomes, feelings of alienation and an increased risk of dropping out. Funding SROs diverts funds from resources that could actually support students, like school counsellors. And all of this is worse for racialized students—who are more likely than white students to attend a school with an SRO, of course.

‎Even so, parents and their children are expected to sacrifice comfort, belonging and psychological safety in the name of physical safety. And you know what? I can see why so many want to believe that these tiny (and not so tiny) infringements will keep their children alive. But as we saw this week, they actually can’t. And police won't—because they refuse to.

If that’s not a sign we need to look again to abolition, I don’t know what is.

Rest in Peace

Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10. Alithia Ramirez, 10. Amerie Jo Garza, 10. Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10. Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10. Eliana “Ellie” Garcia, 9. Jackie Cazares, 10. Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10. Jayce Luevanos, 10. Jose Flores, 10. Layla Salazar, 10. Makenna Lee Elrod, 10. Maite Rodriguez. Miranda Mathis, 11. Neveah Bravo. Rojelio Torres, 10. Tess Marie Mata. Iziyah Garcia, 8. Xavier Lopez, 10. And their teachers, Eva Mireles, 44 and Irma Garcia, 48. (Garcia’s husband, Joe, also died on Thursday after a heart attack.)


And Did You Hear About…

Dracula Daily, a newsletter that publishes a chapter-by-chapter reaction to Dracula. I found it through this Twitter feed, which made me laugh so loudly that it was actually embarrassing.

Writer Maris Kreizman’s smart analysis of Gone Girl’s legacy.

This in-depth investigation on DeuxMoi’s identity.

The person who wrote in to Slate’s Dear Prudence advice column because they are dating someone who is “somewhat famous” but want to remain private. Prudie’s advice is totally fine, but (just to prove the letter writer’s point) I’m more curious about who the somewhat famous person is than anything else, tbh.

These beautiful (and soothing) embroidered landscapes.

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