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Opinion: Mass shootings hit home

“Violence is as American as cherry pie.”

These infamous words were spoken in 1967 by the equally infamous H. Rap Brown, 79, now known as Jamil Abdullah al-Amin.

I was reminded of these words last week in the wake of three horrific mass shootings in California, a state that has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

We don’t hear much about Brown these days since he is serving life in prison for shooting and killing two Fulton County, Georgia, sheriff’s deputies in 2000, but during the ’60s, Brown and other apostles of hate supported violence as a means toward their political ends to “reform the system.”

Although I have no use for the extremism of the H. Rap Browns of the world, I have to grudgingly admit that his words have been given new residence in our increasingly violent society.

We’re at the point where many of us do not feel secure in the former sanctuaries where safety was not given a second thought. When we hear of the slaughter at a Walmart in Texas, a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, a dance studio in suburban Los Angeles, endless number of school shootings and on and on, we ask ourselves the dreaded question: “Will my family or I be next?”

In the first month of 2023, more than 70 people have been killed in mass shootings across the country, including three within days of each other in California. Officially, a mass shooting involves four or more victims in one incident.

The year started off badly and has only gone downhill. On New Year’s Day, four people were shot near a youth center in Allentown; there were other shootings that same day at a Subway restaurant in North Carolina, behind a beer hall in Oklahoma City and at a strip club near Columbus, Ohio. There also were two mass shootings that ended private parties in two different Florida cities.

Are you surprised to learn that one of these mass shootings was in Lehigh County, right here in our own backyard? Since none of the victims had life-threatening wounds, the incident did not get the kind of national attention that the mass killings produced.

Still, it is a stark reminder that these events can happen anywhere at any time without rhyme or reason, and God forbid if we and our family are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At a time like this, I am reminded of Pleasant Valley High School graduate Christopher B. Hixon, athletic director and wrestling coach at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, part of the Parkland School District in Broward County, Florida. Hixon, who was killed in one of the nation’s worst mass school shootings, was honored as a hero as he tried to disarm gunman Nikolas Cruz, then 19, who shot and killed 17 students and staff and wounded 17 others on Valentine’s Day 2018. Hixon was 49.

America has been wringing its hands, wondering what to do to come up with a solution to this violence. We offer our thoughts and prayers; we contribute to GoFundMe campaigns for the victims’ families; we place flowers at the sites of these despicable crimes; we attend prayer services; we see task forces convened to study the root causes of the violence. In the end, it seems as if nothing works and that the problem is getting more out of control.

Through it all, we cannot come to a consensus of what needs to be done to turn this around. Much of the anger aimed in the aftermath of these events is toward the proliferation of guns and our inability to enact even common sense laws which are favored by a vast majority of our citizens.

As we often say about a difficult problem: “It’s complicated.” This one really is, and we wind up throwing up our hands wondering “what can I do?”

A new report on these mass attacks calls for individuals and communities to get involved when they see warning signs. The report encourages businesses to consider workplace violence prevention plans and underscores the connection between domestic violence, misogyny (ingrained violence against women) and mass racial and ethnic attacks. In virtually all of these incidents there were prior warnings that were ignored or not fully investigated or taken seriously.

Released last week by the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, the report analyzed 173 mass attacks over a five-year period until Jan. 1, 2021, in public or semipublic places such as businesses, schools or churches. About half of the attacks were motivated in whole or in part by a perceived grievance.

The report noted that nearly two-thirds of attackers exhibited behavior or sent communications “that were so concerning, they should have been met with an immediate response.” It said these concerns were often shared with law enforcement, employers, school staff or parents, but in one-fifth of the cases, the concerns were not relayed to anyone “in a position to respond, demonstrating a continued need to promote bystander reporting.”

The role for each of us is clear: If we see behavior which crosses the line, don’t let it pass with a “that’s weird” comment to yourself. I realize that none of us wants to be alarmist or embarrass ourselves with an unfounded allegation. How do we know whether an off-handed remark is just that or whether it will lead to a mass killing? As I noted: It’s complicated, but we need to be on our guard and act accordingly. My advice in borderline cases: Be proactive instead of passive.

By Bruce Frassinelli?|?tneditor@tnonline.com