How do schools recuperate after a shooting? How do they reinforce the idea that life at the school may not return to normal for a long time, maybe ever?
Violent crime is down in many cities, such as New York, but other cities—Baltimore and Chicago among them—are experiencing an upward trend in the incidence of violent crime.
Speaking at a conference in Chicago’s northern suburbs for law enforcement on September 19, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinforced a message from former US Attorney Zachary Fardon, telling conference attendees that when police have to take 40 minutes to fill out a form every time they talk to a group of kids or when they fear that stops they make may be deemed illegal after the fact, they don’t make as many stops.
The consequence of that, he said at the Valor Survive and Thrive Conference, has been an increase in crime in Chicago and elsewhere, such that “the city is on fire,” according to published remarks made available by the attorney general’s office.
While Chicago had become a “cautionary tale for leaders across America,” it’s not alone, he pointed out. He brought out stats from other cities, including Baltimore and St Louis.
Between 2014 to 2017, the average number of field interviews conducted by police in Baltimore fell by 70 percent, he said. Arrests fell dramatically and arrests on outstanding warrants dropped by half. During that time period, homicides in Baltimore increased by 62.5 percent and rape incidents by more than 300 percent.
The riots in St Louis over the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson caused police to pull back from communities there. The murder rate in St Louis subsequently increased—double the rate for Chicago and 10 times the national average in 2016.
Part of the blame goes to the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr Sessions said. The agreement made between police and the ACLU is the instrument that makes them file paperwork upon conversing with people in communities. And because talking with a group of kids means extra paperwork for police officers, they just don’t talk to kids in communities as much anymore.
As police distance themselves from communities, a feeling of “us vs them” develops on both sides, and tensions build because communication is cut off. When teens feel cut off, they occasionally act out. If they own or have ready access to a gun, that acting out sometimes includes shooting up a school.
Schools reopen after shootings
Following the shooting last school year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, school officials installed more than four dozen video surveillance cameras throughout the school. With that much footage available, it’s unlikely that a kid comes to school any day who doesn’t get his or her image recorded. The school was also excused from taking federally mandated standardized tests for the rest of the school year.
“The best strategy is to go back to the school as soon as possible,” The Atlantic quoted Cathy Kennedy-Paine, who leads the crisis-response team for the National Association of School Psychologists, as saying, “because we know that one of the best ways to reduce the impact of that trauma is to reestablish the natural social-support systems for students and teachers.” But one of the primary reasons schools stay closed for a time after a shooting is that the site immediately and automatically becomes a crime scene, which places the building or campus under the control of local law enforcement.
How and when to return to school is, in all cases, a local decision, and communities need to do whatever is best for students and school staff there. Some schools increase surveillance, others hire more school resource officers, and others install metal detectors, build new walls, close off the affected classrooms, or re-route visitors to the school building.
“It’s important to honor the students who are coming back,” Ms Kennedy-Paine was quoted as saying. “Some will be overt about it; some will be crying or emotional. Some will be very introspective about it, and will appear not to even be fazed. But everyone is dealing with it in their own way.”
In some cases, youth ministers can help with the recovery. Following a 2008 shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, members eventually returned, just as students will return to school and go on with their lives.
“Human beings are incredibly resilient,” the Knoxville News-Sentinel quoted Rev Rosemary Bray McNatt, who responded to the Knoxville church as part of the ministry team, as saying. “If given the appropriate support, they can live a normal life not denying what happened, but incorporating what happened into their life experience.”