I think we’ve reached a new low even for us, accustomed as we are to news of tragedy and terror – and our reaction to it.
Even before the final bullet had left its magazine, the sound of Nikolas Cruz unloading his AR-15 assault rifle on his peers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida this week was eclipsed by the terrific noise of a million half-truths and maybes bellowed across the Internet and TV.
Each sound-bite cherry-picked by our good selves to confirm whatever bias we already had, we sat down and gorged ourselves until we were satiated, assured that we once again learned what we already knew.
“This is the 18th school shooting in the US in 2018,” tweeted Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group co-founded by Michael Bloomberg that is most famous for its running tally of school shootings.
The figure quickly became the established truth: 18 in 18, like "9/11" or "7/7," another cute short-cut to understanding numbers. And of course, it is an alarming figure.
It is also wrong.
Five of Everytown’s 18 school shootings listed for 2018 took place during school hours and resulted in injury. Three others appeared intentional, but did not hurt anyone. Two involved guns carried by enforcement officers — one a school police officer and the other a licensed peace officer who ran a college club. At least seven of Everytown’s 18 shootings took place outside normal school hours.
None of which makes it ok. Or seeks to undermine the feelings of mothers who send their kids to school with an extra kiss and a hug, just in case. No mother should feel like this.
But “18 in 18” is noise.
So too is the reaction of the Associated Press and the Anti-Defamation League, anxious to pin blame on the “far-right.”
"BREAKING," they screeched through loud-hailers, in caps lock:
“Leader of white nationalist group has confirmed suspect in Florida school shooting was a member of his organization.”
This “truth” was retweeted 40,000 times within the hour.
The mob felt comforted by the label. Now this was a white problem, a Trump problem, a Republican problem. The horror could be neatly placed inside a box. “Racists!” they could yell, through their tears.
The idea that this was a targeted attack by a member of a white nationalist organization who had “participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee” is indeed alarming.
It is also wrong.
In relatively short order, a Leon County Sheriff’s Office spokesman confirmed:
“We have no known ties between the Republic of Florida, Jordan Jereb or the Broward shooter.”
Less than 12 hours later Jordan Jereb appeared to be backing down from his claim that the shooter had ever been part of his Republic of Florida group.
“There was a misunderstanding because we have MULTIPLE people named Nicholas in ROF,” posted a user named @JordanJereb on Gab, a social media site.
“Are you really going to blame ME for the lying *** media? We know they are liars. F**k em.”
He may have something of a point.
But even as the empty noise grew louder, others shouted for more.
President Trump said he sent his “prayers and condolences” to the families of the dead, adding:
“No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
Sarah, a young woman believed to be a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, replied:
“I don’t want your condolences you fucking price [sic] of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.”
By Thursday morning her message had been retweeted 65,000 times and liked by more than 154,000 people. Sarah’s tweet became the go-to hook for news anchors overly keen to repeat coarse language against a President they clearly despise, deliberately filtering content to fit their narrative.
It is a curious thing indeed.
It’s not only the attitude to gun control that changes with the identity of the shooter. The acceptance of prayer does, too.
After every Islamist terror attack in Western Europe you can depend on the people to hold a vigil and a prayer service, light candles and make heart-shaped gestures at the sky. The liberal press cover these touching events with reverence and respect, voicing over their b-roll with the platitudes we have all learned by rote:
“Brave people, defiant in the face of terror, determined to carry on as normal, we stand united" etc.
But prayers in the face of a school shooting are less acceptable to the liberal press. These prayers are not worthy – indeed, coming from the President they are viewed as a sign of weakness. And young Sarah was right there on hand to articulate this prejudice:
“Prayers won’t fix this you piece of sh*t. Gun control will.”
Strange. I don’t hear “Prayers won’t fix this. Controlling Islam will,” when our children are slaughtered by Islamists.
Amid all this noise, the wailing and the chaos, and the uneducated views of the masses (and I can be equally culpable here), I think we often miss the obvious points.
Numb to the actual tragedy itself, we move quickly to accusation and blame as a coping strategy, rather than looking honestly at the unprotected children lying dead on the floor.
Deaf to quiet truths, we swallow without question the untruths shouted in our face because their neatness makes them more palatable: “18 in 18.”
And blind to the glaringly obvious, we miss the fact that a young person with mental issues, weapons, a prescription and a grudge cannot be left to wander on to a school campus to seek revenge. Perhaps if he’d had a loving parent waiting for him at the school gate each day, his path would have been less dark.
Sometimes I think we shout loudest when we don’t know what to do. Perhaps if we all just listened a lot longer and spoke a little less we might be better placed to hear what actually happened, and learn how to stop something like it happening again.