Broward County Deputy Scot R. Peterson is a coward. On this point everyone agrees.
His Sheriff, Scott Israel, publicly stated that he was “devastated, sick to my stomach” after learning about his deputy’s apparent refusal to enter the building looking for what turned out to be Nikolas Cruz with an AR-15. When questioned about what Scot Peterson should have done, the Sheriff simply said, “Went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.”
A student on national TV called Peterson, a father of four, a “coward,” claiming a friend saw the deputy on the first floor refusing to engage the shooter.
Even the president of the United States, a stalwart supporter of law enforcement, made a statement about the 54-year-old school resource officer: “That’s a case where somebody was outside, they’re trained, but they didn’t react properly under pressure or they were a coward.”
Case closed. A coward in uniform responsible for 17 deaths, and he is School Resource Officer (SRO) Scot R. Peterson—we have our villain.
Or do we?
Questions Worth Pondering
I don’t know the answer to that question at this point. No one does. We don’t have the facts. No real timeline. Apparently not even all of the radio transmissions. But, either way, let’s tell the entire world that Deputy Scot Peterson is a coward.
But why do we need to make such a devastating charge so quickly? Before the facts are in, the bodies are buried, the victims mourned—why?
Because we want this tragedy to be simple, on both sides. We want to find someone to blame for the insanity and madness, so we can delude ourselves in our grief to thinking we can have a quick fix.
Problem is, this massacre, like all the other maniacal massacres before it, is anything but simple. It was complex and chaotic. It’s causes are difficult and uncomfortable to discuss.
It also brings out the worst in many, including politicians, police bureaucrats, the media, and the pontificating activists. I’ve seen cops and police trainers looking for the easy out too. Everybody wants change. Everybody wants action. Trouble is, we’ve never been more at odds with one another.
Here are those responsible, the villains, at least according to those with the biggest platforms.
The National Rifle Association (NRA). I’m not a member and have angered some who are because I am in favor of sensible gun control, which means different things to different people. The NRA has more than five million members of various persuasions. The NRA’s spokesperson Dana Loesch, who I find to be articulate and pretty reasonable, has become a chief target. By taking part in a townhall meeting on CNN, she was personally called a “murderer,” “child killer,” and there were shouts to “burn her.” Security was necessary to get her out of the building.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They admit that they dropped the ball when it came to Nikolas Cruz. They ignored a warning that Cruz might attack a school weeks before that fatal Valentine’s Day. They failed to act on a Jan. 5 tip from “a person close to Nikolas Cruz,” who said the 19-year-old’s “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting” alarmed the person to the point that there was an urgent need to alert authorities, who promised to take action. The FBI didn’t. But here’s the thing: There are constitutional rights afforded to all of our citizenry. Contrary to clueless pundits, short of Cruz telling an agent that he plans on going to the school and shooting it up in the next 20 minutes, isolating him from the public and stripping away his freedom is close to impossible. But not as impossible as putting him under 24-hour surveillance. Neither would have happened with or without the contact.
Broward County Sheriff’s Office. They had dozens of contacts with Cruz. He was investigated by a state social services agency. The signs were there. But even if the police tried to initiate action under The Florida Baker Act that allows mental health facilities to hold a person up to 72 hours for an evaluation, Cruz almost assuredly wouldn’t have been hospitalized against his will.
The Second Amendment. I’ve listened to those poor traumatized children who have become instant activists demanding change. One said the Second Amendment needs to disappear, along with the NRA. The problem is that the U.S. does have an amendment, as well as an estimated 88.8 guns for every 100 people, totaling over 300 million. Guns are present in about 33% of American households. More than 99% of those people are responsible and of no threat to public safety.
So then how do we stop these tragic events? I don’t know specifically, but I do know it needs to be a serious conversation with an acknowledgement of the complexity. Here are some salient features of these too-common events: mental health issues, access to weapons, cultural glorification of violence, lack of parental guidance, and the role of media. Let’s talk.
Mental health. As mentioned, dicey, confusing, fraught with legal perils, a profession short of money and qualified personnel.
Access to weapons. We noted, above, the numbers of guns. Add to this popular support for the second amendment.
Culture and lack of parental guidance. Do we really believe that the plethora of violent movies, TV shows and video games that glorify violence aren’t going to impact adolescents, particularly young males? What about those raised without fathers or even decent male role models? No one to pay attention to what they are doing, building, and saying?
Finally, the media. Young people, particularly disturbed adolescent males, are prone to copy others. (They are also prone to laziness, cowardice, and poor reasoning, which is why positive male role models are so important. See prior point.) Without assuming malice on the part of television networks let’s lay out some facts: 1) Networks make their money by attracting qualified viewers; 2) Incessant coverage of school shootings is good for ratings (and their bottom line). Maybe the prudent thing would be not to overemphasize these events? Not put grieving, raw high school students on camera just days after traumatic experiences? Do nothing to aggrandize the killer, let alone mention his name?
Too much to ask?
Want someone to blame? Blame Nikolas Cruz. For his own sick and delusional reasons he decided to kill children who could’t protect themselves. Beyond that … We should blame ourselves.
Nobody in this debate wants another Parkland. Everyday in this country 19 children are shot. Let’s stop shouting and start listening. You want to have honest conversations? It isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.