Another week in America, another shooting — or two. It’s a constant vicious cycle. In Jacksonville, a white supremacist killed three Black people at a discount store after being caught trying to murder far more at an HBCU.
The shooter who killed 17 people in 2018 at my school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was also known to be racist and antisemitic. The FBI knew about direct threats he made a month before ultimately carrying them out. His hatred of Black people, Jewish people, women and gay people was broadcast on social media. He etched swastikas onto his legally purchased weapons. He drew them and wrote the N-word on his backpack.
He exhibited significant behavioral problems since preschool. Psychiatrists had been recommending involuntary institutionalization since 2013. The shooter abused animals, stalked women, assaulted my classmates and his own mother. He was expelled for disciplinary reasons in 2017 but not institutionalized as recommended. There were multiple 911 calls made regarding his violent behavior before the shooting.
But, as in the case of the Jacksonville shooter, all the authorities — in law enforcement, mental health, education and in government — failed to stop him.
When the shooting at my school occurred, and security was needed, nothing was done. This wasn’t a surprise to us since school security and the school resource officer were routinely too distracted harassing students of color over benign conflicts to focus on any real problems caused by white students. Systemic and institutional racism allows students of color to be targeted and criminalized more than a mass shooter. In fact, white-supremacist murderers are given special treatment or aided and abetted by racist and politically motivated negligence on the part of law enforcement.
Last month, such distractions from the issues of white supremacy and gun violence proved deadly again. But instead of enacting swift and sensible reform to address any of the failures in both these cases, Florida’s Gov. DeSantis’ Individual Freedom Act — known as the ‘Stop WOKE Act — is another dangerous distraction that will cost more lives. While hate-filled young men terrorize our state, the IFA prevents educators from teaching explicitly about the history of race, racism and other forms of oppression and violence.
The governor has also argued that slavery was beneficial for enslaved Black people. He courts extremist groups like Moms for Liberty, a ‘parental rights’ group that quotes Hitler in its newsletters and spends its money to purchase politicians that guarantee that only white, Nationalist Christian parents have rights. Being “anti-woke” in Florida means accepting without question that slavery meant opportunity, that liberty means exclusion and propaganda is educational material.
As a survivor of the violence these distractions cause, I implore Floridians to listen before it’s too late — again. Unchallenged racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and violence from the combination of the IFA and a lack of sensible gun laws will lead to more shootings. There will be more dead children, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and friends. Each day, it’s increasingly likely they’ll be yours. Nothing and no one will be able to save them after it’s too late.
Senseless violence is the hardest to understand and heal from. It leaves physical, emotional and mental wounds that never heal completely. Seventeen people shouldn’t have been murdered on Valentine’s Day at school. Three people shouldn’t have been murdered at a Dollar General because of their skin color. All these souls should be with us today. Predictable tragedy after predictable tragedy, politicians and their authorities fail us. They learn nothing, do nothing — just as DeSantis’ educational reforms are meant to guarantee.
But parents and caregivers are authorities, too. “Parental rights” come with responsibility. As political distractions stop Florida schools from teaching accurate history, kindness or compassion for all human beings, more and more future shooters will learn, accept and internalize racism. Their hatred will be radicalized even further by social media. Their mass murder is made possible by laws that allow dangerous young people to purchase guns and ammunition or be left free to terrorize school after school — and society at large.
Learning about racism and other forms of oppression isn’t what “grooms” or “corrupts” children. Adult authorities who dismiss it for their own selfish agendas do. Parents, this is life or death. Demand better authorities.
Hannah Karcinell is a visiting fellow at the Western Massachusetts Policy Center and holds a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Public Policy. She graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.