Like so many of us, the horror and grief over the onslaught of mass shootings have me heartbroken and frustrated. As a parent and as someone who works with youth, I continue to be brought to tears over the stories of the tragic and violent deaths of children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas at the hands of a teen with an assault rifle he purchased at age 18.
A report from Education Weekly states that since Columbine, over 300,000 students have been impacted by gun violence in schools and communities. Locally, we know what it’s like to have a community grieve the tragic deaths of young people in mass shootings. Sentiments of thoughts and prayers were nice, but they felt hollow as we mourned together. We needed something to be done. Now, we are seeing that in the United States of America, there is no place that is safe from the violence of guns at the hands of disturbed men.
Regardless of our political stance, we can all agree that we are in a crisis. The CDC reports that gun violence is the leading cause of death for our children ages 1-19. Let that sink in. Shouldn’t that fact alone have called us to action? The inability of law enforcement to stop the steep influx and easy access to illegal guns, ineffective gun policies, unfettered access to online forums that promote racial hate, impacts from the pandemic, and a persistent lack of investment in mental health resources, have converged to make this cultural soup ripe for the violence that is killing our children across our country, including mass shootings and gang violence.
For over two decades, Youth Alliance has worked alongside youth and parents, community-based allies, public health, law enforcement agencies, and education systems to address community violence. Our work has centered on a comprehensive public health strategy as the cornerstone of strong community violence prevention and intervention. This strategy realizes that law enforcement alone is not enough. If it was, then Columbine would have been our last school shooting because of the massive investments in school police and school hardening measures. After Sandy Hook, the focus centered on active shooter drills. It is urgent that we come together as a community to say that it’s not ok for our children to be gunned down. We can’t stay stuck in outrage or fear but instead, work together to create solutions to address the root causes of violence.
Preventing violence requires comprehensive strategies that involve comprehensive gun reforms, community-based organizations, public health, behavioral health, education, and the community. YA worked with a group of allies to support a local school district with their response to students in crisis. Where law enforcement was usually called, the district created a task force to work with the teachers, community, and the County Office of Education to establish a response system with social workers, updated policies, and a commitment to trauma-informed training, restorative justice, etc. This may not feel like the urgent response we need right now, because we are reacting with such pain, anger, and fear. But these are critical solutions that include early intervention for children and trusted people on campus to seek help when a student, guardian, or teacher is in need. This is an example of a comprehensive solution that creates a safe and coordinated response system that then identifies when a police officer is needed. Even though we feel like we are on fire right now, we know that disrupting this violence and assault on our children will take all of us. The tragic response in Uvalde has shown us that law enforcement alone is not enough. Looking at Uvalde’s social context and budgets, it is clear that state and city leaders prioritize investments in a school police department and school hardening over access to health care, counseling, and investments in children. Survivors of Parkland have publicly pleaded for the focus to be on preventing gun violence with prevention strategies, and early intervention, common-sense gun policies, and community interventions that focus on high-risk individuals and suspected shooters.
Without proper resources and without the community coming together to address these issues, we will just be putting out fires and responding to crisis after crisis. It will take a coordinated community response in order to save our children’s lives, help our young men come back to a loving community, and make sure that it’s safe for our children and youth to go to school, festivals, at home, or church without the worry of being shot. So, while I know the conversation wants to focus on responses like arming teachers or school hardening, those of us who have been working deeply in the community and looking at the evidence over time, know that this approach is not grounded in solution-oriented thinking, and is simply another knee jerk reaction that fails to address the real problem.
History has shown the nation what’s possible when we prioritize and invest in community-based public safety efforts. During the 90s, this national and local effort saw a steep decline in mass violence and youth violence. Today, the number of mass shootings that are both racially motivated and deadly requires us to come together to move and act decisively to protect our children. We can move forward if we move beyond divisive rhetoric and tap into our collective determination to act and not accept this as our new reality.
We need our local, state, and national leaders to provide proper investment in evidence-based approaches to preventing violence like access to mental health resources, victim services, community education, safe places for young people to get help, confidential reporting resources, etc. Investment in the development and capacity-building of agencies will help to increase the effectiveness of service delivery.
Youth Alliance is united with families, young people, and the community who are calling for change. We are committed to supporting with healing circles, youth engagement strategies for disconnected youth or youth who have lost hope, and supporting community conversations to build out comprehensive public health solutions that will keep our kids safe. YA will also be working with the County Office of Education’s Community Schools effort to build off the comprehensive school support plan already started.
Finally, here are some ways the community can get involved:
- Contribute to the Uvalde Strong Survivors Fund for the families and Uvalde Strong Fund for local nonprofits providing mental health as the community begins a long journey towards healing
- Organize with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action
- Join a March For Our Lives event