Sunday, December 16, 2012

Connecticut horror, personal shame

Gilligan's brilliant book offers the best understanding of violence to date 

Yesterday 20 young children under 10 years old and 7 adults were murdered in a Newtown, Connecticut grade school.

Nationwide the statistics are cold and bleak: Since the Littleton CO school slaughter there have been 13 mass murder tragedies claiming over 150 victims; all but 3 killers committed suicide; most were mentally ill or motivated by political/religious fanaticism. In every case victims were killed by effortlessly obtained handguns and assault rifles.

Even more deplorable some states have multiple cases of mass murder. In 2010 there was another Connecticut mass murder. And today none of this matters to parents of 20 murdered children or the family members of 7 others.


As I reflect on yesterday's horror I am ashamed to say I'm thinking of myself. A decade ago I ran a crime prevention research center at the University of New Haven. Our team developed an innovative violence prevention program called School-Safe. This was a few years before SafeGrowth but it deployed many of the same tactics. It was designed for schools. Some of our ideas were similar to those promoted in James Gilligen's Preventing Violence.

We were quite proud of ourselves and excited for the potential of our program. Such hubris! We sent notices to school principals. We ran a workshop to promote it. World-renown forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee generously provided our introductory keynote address and encouraged school leaders to try it out.

Of the few school leaders who showed up, none showed interest in trying it. It's now long gone.

Today I know I should be thinking of young victims in Connecticut, not of myself. But that shame doesn't tamp down the fire of some burning questions: Should I have done more to convince school leaders? What could I have done different to explain the program? Might School-Safe have saved young lives in Newtown, Connecticut? I'll never know.

4 Replies so far - Add your comment

Eclectic Breakfast said...


"Should I have done more to convince school leaders? What could I have done different to explain the program? Might School-Safe have saved young lives in Newtown, Connecticut?"

There is so much we don't yet know about the attack in Newtown. The violent assault appears to have succeeded despite a variety of security precautions that have become best practices in all American K-12 schools. Some of the precautions - mass communication, lockdown, and shelter in place - appear to have saved lives. We will have to wait to see what precautions might have worked better and others should be added.

This week there are many people calling for significantly increased security in our public schools, but I wonder how many of them will remember to vote for increased public safety and school security levies next time they go to the polls.

Gregory Saville said...

Very true. I once heard that true democracy means advanced citizenship:
1. People must learn about social issues from informed sources,
2. Must have the education to think critically, and
3. Must personally engage themselves in voting.

Today the electorate:
1. Gets fed crap from politicos and money-grubbing media,
2. Are under-educated in schools that can barely teach, and
3. Refuse to turn off their screens and get off their butts to vote.

Are those polemical generalizations? Yep. But with 20 children gone, neither polemics nor generalizations are our biggest worry.

Roger Buhlis said...

Of course we'll never know what School-Safe could have done to prevent this - and the several other previous tragedies. However, that should not remain a personal shame on your part, but rather a society-wide shame on our part.

I just finished Preventing Violence last evening and was struck by this passage in the final chapter entitled Who Benefits from Violence? "...Between 1984 and 1994, the rates of both committing homicide and being a victim of homicide tripled among 14-17 year old American boys. This explosive increase in the murder rate was caused by one weapon only - the handgun. Yet the Congress and virtually every state legislature refuses to outlaw the private possession and use of these weapons, and the repeat-action assault rifles that are increasingly used in mass murders." (Written 11 years before Newtown!)

As a (now retired) police officer in a violence-prone California city, I found the statistic to be entirely accurate and responded to innumerable shooting incidents since my start in 1986. Many shootings, homicides and suicides involved very young victims and offenders, most of them male. Now that the federal assault rifle ban has been lifted, we're seeing mass shootings increase culminating in this most recent school shooting of 6 and 7 year olds by an assailant with an assault rifle. Yes, his mother was probably a responsible owner, until she was killed with her own weapon(s). I'm already seeing the posts on social media by folks fearing the government will doom us all by strictly banning weapons.

Gilligan's Preventing Violence is about far more than regulating weapons, so I hope folks who see your blog will consider reading the book. And violence prevention requires far more than one man with a team and a solid idea - it requires buy-in, implementation, and sustainability by grass-roots citizenry AND influential legislators. Your personal shame should be shared widely, my friend.

So whaddya say we fire up School-Safe again?

Gregory Saville said...

Not to put to fine a point on it, but I doubt the pro-gun lobby and their corporate masters would ever allow a program like School-Safe. They would lose far too many gun sales.

I just read they were looking to place armed police and security in every school. So that way, when the fire-fight breaks out, innocent children will die from both shooter bullets and wayward police bullets.

I suppose I missed the part where the school police would magically know when shooters are about to show up and also have the skills of a Seal Team 6 sniper so those bullets are not wayward.

The absurdity - and dominant political power - of the pro-gun lobby and their corporate masters is the main obstacle at this point!