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Henderson: ‘You Can Hear the Creep of Normalcy’ with Each School Shooting

WDET

Stephen Henderson

The following is an essay from Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson:

The front page of the New York Times on Sunday, just two days after last week’s school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, probably tells us everything we need to know about where we are as a country.

The huge story in the paper, the one with a photo sprawled across most of the columns above the fold, was the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The follow-up stories about the shooting were there on the front page — but in significantly smaller and less prominent position.


Ten people were killed — eight of them teenagers — at a school in Texas, just 48 hours earlier. But the most important news that day, the day of the highest weekly circulation for this nation’s paper of record, was a royal wedding in London, England.

And let’s think of what else grabbed more of our attention this weekend. The Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. A few quarter-turn stories about the Mueller investigation.

There were all kinds of other things that happened — and I have to admit, I didn’t even spend much time this weekend thinking, or even reading, about what happened in Santa Fe.

And I guess that’s because this no longer disrupts. It no longer jars us or diverts the narrative of the conversation we’re having. It no longer even causes significant pause, when it happens in this country.

I saw a statistic last week that recounted how many school shootings there have been in countries around the globe since the year 2000. There have been an estimated 188 here in America. We don’t know the reality behind that number because the federal government is, essentially, prohibited from studying gun violence in any serious way.

And around the world? There haven’t been that many combined.

This has become the norm. This is what we, at least on a subconscious level, expect to happen in our nation — and to our children.

It’s frightening, and you can hear the creep of normalcy in how our children have begun to talk about these shootings when they happen. One student from Santa Fe told reporters on Friday that she was terrified during the shooting attack, but she wasn’t surprised. She said she always knew a shooting would happen eventually.

The writer Malcolm Gladwell theorized a few years ago in The New Yorker that what’s happening is, indeed, a kind of normalizing of the idea of school shootings. His focus was on the shooters themselves. He said that with each incident, the threshold for the next shooter has gotten lower — that where the shooters at, say, Columbine, in the mid-1990s, were deeply disturbed and ostracized, the shooters now are less and less outliers. The shooter on Friday, in Santa Fe, was reportedly just angry about a girl’s rejection, something every teen deals with, at some point.*

So what’s next? A shooter who is angry over a single bad grade? Someone who fails a test for a drivers’ license?

And the question, for the rest of us, is how we begin to raise that threshold again. How we make the thought of doing something like this absolutely horrifying — for the potential shooters.

I guess I’m not precisely sure how to do that, what steps we need to take to make that happen.

But I know this — our own progression here is part of the problem. The normalization of these incidents, of our reaction to these things, is likely a contributor to the increasing frequency.

What does that say about us? And how much we really care for our children?

*Houston Public Media reporter Davis Land notes that police have not determined a motive at this point.


On Detroit Today, Henderson speaks with Davis Land, reporter with Houston Public Media, who joins the program from outside Santa Fe High School.

He says some parents tell him they are considering pulling their kids out of school after this shooting.

I hear some people talk about possibly home schooling their kids or moving them to private school,” says Land. He says some schools have “beefed up security” and have banned backpacks for the rest of the year.

Henderson also speaks with Mark Greathead, superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown schools. Greathead has had to deal with threats of violence in his own school district.

I’ve met with our students groups…are they concerned about it? Yes. They see it quite a bit in media,” says Greathead. “Do they feel safe in their schools? They say that they do.”

Jake Neher/WDET

Imani Harris

Henderson also speaks with two students from Metro Detroit — one from the city and one from the suburbs — about the reaction to these shootings in their schools.

Imani Harris, a senior at Renaissance High School in Detroit, says the awareness and interest about shootings has waned at her school, even since the Parkland, FL shooting in February.

No one even, at my school, really knew about the Santa Fe shooting until today,” says Harris.

She says, as someone heading to college next year, a major consideration is the level of safety at the campuses she’s considering.

I feel like I need to fight for my life sometimes,” she says. “It’s starting to affect by education.”

There’s a very similar reaction here,” says Lily Kollin, a junior at North Farmington High School. “I think that sense of hopelessness is growing. And we just can’t let that happen.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

Image credit: WDET/Annie Scaramuzzino

About the Author

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

detroittoday@wdet.org  

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