Among the hundreds of victims added to the body count in recent weeks from our ever-growing national negligence on gun violence were two young people who lunged at school gunmen to save the lives of others.
Ever since then, there have been near-constant cries that we should be ashamed that our children are burdened with such life-saving actions — as if this country doesn’t show on the regular that it’s sold itself out of that particular emotion a long time ago.
Start with a president who in the aftermath of the school shootings took to a stage during one of his revolting rallies to make a punch line out of a rabid supporter’s suggestion that immigrants at the border should be shot.
“Only in the Panhandle,” Trump chuckled. Ba dum chhh.
What a true leader, a decent human being, should have been doing at the time was honoring 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo — a Latino — who on Tuesday died rushing a shooter at his Denver-area school, giving his classmates time to take cover.
Or Riley Howell, 21, who a week earlier lost his life charging a gunman who’d burst into a University of North Carolina-Charlotte lecture hall and opened fire.
Or any of the young people who are on the front lines of our true national emergency, and mastering what to do if — or more likely, when — they are confronted with an active shooter. “Don’t cry or you’ll be found,” a young girl tells a group of adults in a disturbing new public service announcement video from the anti-gun-violence advocacy group March for Our Lives.
Those who see Trump for the dangerous man that he is talk about his boorish, childish behavior. But these days that does a huge disservice to the young people who are consistently standing on the right side of issues, from Parkland to Parkway, while the president of the United States pushes both-siderism, when he’s not just digging into the absolute wrong side.
Last week, I went to a peace march in Philadelphia led by children, including a 6- and an 8-year-old whose father was shot and killed when one of the kids was a newborn and the other still in her mother’s womb. Their grandmother told me that they ask a lot of questions about guns and bad guys, but mostly about their father: Do we look like him?
It was one of three simultaneous anti-violence marches in the city.
It was heartbreaking, or should be — children burdened by so much trauma before they’re even out of diapers. But something that breaks our hearts should move us to act, shouldn’t it?
The only people truly acting on gun violence are the children who have figured out that no one — least of all the adults around them — is coming to save them.
On Tuesday afternoon, a roomful of adults crammed into a selfie of a meeting about the city’s “Roadmap to Safer Communities” that, in its defense, actually does resemble Philly’s roads — full of potholes. That night, one person was killed and five others, including a 4-year-old boy, were wounded in separate shootings.
So, the young people save themselves and one another, and maybe if we’re lucky, they’ll save us in the process.
Consider the words of Nate Holley, a sixth grader at the Denver-area school, where Castillo was killed and eight others were injured.
“I had my hand around a metal baseball bat …” he told CNN. “If I was going to go down, I was going to go down fighting.” He is 12.
In an interview with ABC News, Castillo’s father said his son, just days from graduation, had said he would act if something bad happened.
The teen was true to his word, unlike the adults whose idea of action is “thoughts and prayers.”
We’ve rightly mocked that empty response to gun violence, but I’ve noticed something else as we feel increasingly powerless. We cling to kindness and love as we watch the daily deterioration of our democracy and the moral cowards in power stand idly by. Many days I do, too.
It’s an appealing concept, that ultimately our collective compassion as Americans is strong and can overcome basic instincts built on fear and selfishness.
But I fear that we overestimate the power of love and kindness and decency with our capacity for cruelty and ignorance and complicity. At our own peril.