It strikes us that the recent shooting at the Earle Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas has cracked open an important conversation about the state of our society both here in North Texas and across the country.
First, there is a rush of relief felt across our city. The only person killed in this incident is a man who brought violence to a federal courthouse and who seemed intent on killing a large number of people. The attack brings to mind the incident at the Curtis Culwell Center in 2015 when a quick-thinking Garland police officer, armed only with a pistol, killed two would-be assailants who had arrived in body armor and armed with assault rifles. When only the bad guys end up dead, it is fair for a community to allow itself a feeling of solace in the outcome.
But any such feeling is likely to be immediately followed by another emotion — outrage or dismay at the fact that violence is erupting in our public spaces in sudden outbursts and at an alarming frequency. In this case, the shooting took place at a house of justice. A courthouse is one of a few essential nodes within the body politic. It’s where cases are adjudicated, where justice is handed out, and, in this case, where so much federal business is done. To target a courthouse is to target a pillar of our civil society.
And this brings us to where we are as a society today. In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll learn more about the assailant, his motivations, and his story. That narrative is both newsworthy and important for the community to know as it figures out how to address the problem of mass shootings.
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On this week's "Center Stage" political podcast, Milfred and Hands praise the Madison School Board's 4-3 vote to keep a city police officer in each of Madison's four main high schools. They also play a clip of protesters who have shut down School Board meetings, cite statistics on school arrests and citations, and read from a West High survey.
One thing that we do know is that, for some shooters, the notoriety or infamy that comes from perpetrating an attack appears to be a motivating factor. This is one reason, after a recent shooting in Virginia, the police mentioned the shooter’s name only once. If notoriety is what a shooter seeks, we can strike back by offering him anonymity. No matter how heinous the attack, no one should remember the name of the perpetrator. Instead, we should remember the men and women in blue who protect us and the civilians who stand up in moments of crisis.
Perhaps more importantly, we also need to drain the poison from our communities that serves as fuel for hatred and anger. We know that we need to get better at reporting suspect behavior, at spotting signs that someone is heading down a path toward violence and then doing something about it. What we aren’t really addressing is the vitriol that passes for public debate, the vitriol on social media and elsewhere that to a depraved few seems to justify a desire for violence.
There will be no single solution to the problem of mass shootings. But until we develop a greater willingness to confront those with a propensity toward violence, we’ll never address an essential ingredient that is creating this era of mass shootings.