I just watched most of the plea hearing for Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland FL school shooter. This kid is 23 years old now and seems fully in control of his faculties. He affirmed that he understood all of the implications of his guilty pleas (18 for murder, 17 for attempted murder, and 4 for battery against police officers). He seemed entirely non-threatening, not intimidating, meek, and humble.
He answered the judge “yes, ma’am” or “no, ma’am” when she queried him about his ability to understand the proceedings and technical aspects of his plea. Bespectacled defendant, and of slight build, he affirmed softly when asked if he understood that the maximum penalty for each of the murder charges was the death penalty.
Mr. Cruz requested to address the victims/families present and was allowed to do so. He did not face those present, but uttered a short and tearful apology for what he had done, and stated his aversion to drugs. He said that he understood the victims might not believe him, but he loved them and was very sorry, and felt they were ultimately in control of whether he lived or died when the sentence was rendered.
Welp, alrighty then. Color me underwhelmed.
The prosecution read a detailed account of this kid’s movements on the day of the killings at the Marjorie Stone Douglas school in Parkland FL in 2018, and it was chilling. The shooter took an Uber to the school, carrying an AR-15 style gun and several magazines of ammunition along with a utility vest in a bag. Since he is a former student of the school, he knew exactly where to go, and proceeded to a 3-story campus building where he began loading and assembling his weapon in a stairwell. He encountered one student there, who he warned that “something bad was about to happen” and returned to girding himself for a self-imposed war.
The shooting rampage took only a few moments, leaving eighteen people dead – students, teachers, athletic coaches. Some seventeen students and teachers were wounded. The rampage might have gone on a bit longer, but some of the bullets disrupted ceiling tiles blowing dust into the smoke detectors. That set off fire alarms all over the campus. Students and teachers across the multiple school buildings began evacuating because the alarms sounded.
The shooter calmly took off his vest, dropped his weapon, and calmly mingled in with the crowd of people flowing out of the buildings. He was captured nearly 3 miles away after an extensive search that relied on eyewitness accounts of the events.
Listening to the prosecutor’s account of that day’s activities was akin to a viewing a horror movie. Several of the victims’ family members cried silently while each count of the charges was read, including the names and how many times each victim had been shot. Each account concluded with the words “the victim died of their wounds” or “the victim survived their wounds”. All of the victims were shot multiple times, some after the shooter had wounded them and then returned to shoot them again as they lay dying.
How can a society that claims to be responsible and moral possibly continue to champion the rights of every citizen to own firearms, particularly assault weapons with large capacity and easily reloadable magazines?
The Parkland shooting is only one in a long list of mass shootings, some with fewer victims and some with more. The Pulse Nightclub shooting, and the Las Vegas music concert shooting both claimed upward of 50 victims. If this is not war, then what is it? If this is not insanity, then what in the world is it? Anyone who continues to argue the illogic of “well, if there had been more armed people to resist these shooters, it would have been a lower death toll” is patently insane, and unequivocally incorrect. If there had been teachers or other students armed in the school shooting incidents, there would have been far more victims, not fewer.
Something is very wrong in this country, but we already knew that. When a 23-year old can procure a military-grade assault weapon, calmly take a ride-share to a densely populated public school, and shoot to his heart’s content that should be incomprehensible in a civilized society. But it’s not. It’s defended and justified and rationalized, and in some cases belligerently defended.
There seem to be no solutions. People can read all the books they care to on habits of highly successful people and negotiating skills and conflict resolution, but until we have some kind of massive paradigm shift none of that will matter.
Until we manage to escape the pugilistic dance seemingly inspired by Calvinist roots that exhort us to devise new and better ways of punishment, rather than prevention and discouragement of crime, we’re going to be stuck right here killing people to show other people that killing people is wrong. The death penalty is no longer a deterrent. It doesn’t grant closure to the survivors of crime. It doesn’t tp the balance of good and evil.
I have no answers, but it takes something out of the collective energy of my world to see the incredible toll that we inflict upon each other. The Parkland shooter is intelligent, and aware, and knows full well what he has done. He has not offered much in the way of motive, and he may not know himself why he chose to do what he did. I don’t need him to understand, but the rest of us need to understand how we can quell the rising tide of people like him.
To fix this mess, we can’t start at the point of penalty for past actions, we have to start well before the action is taken. Ignoring mental health crises, and building on the foundations of inequity and lies and the avoidance of responsibility does not get us any closer to peace, and that’s ultimately what everyone is begging for – peace.
I feel horribly for anyone who has ever lost someone to violence or war of any kind. It takes a brief suspension of one’s moral agency to commit a murder, and it can happen in a split second. Nobody is immune to that moment in time when they are lost and balancing on the imperceptible fixed point that separates right from wrong. That is the point that can destroy the world, or give birth to the future of humanity, and it may be about something as simple as a spicy chicken sandwich at a fast-food restaurant.
This IS the fire next time, and we are burning. It’s painful, and we need a way out. What are we going to do?