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A&M-Commerce Homecoming Shootout Begs Us All for Realism About Guns and Cops

Dallas police march in formal attire.
Dallas police march in formal attire.
Brian Maschino
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You know what else we can do about Saturday’s gun massacre related to a homecoming celebration at Texas A&M University-Commerce? Two young people died and six more were shot. I mean what we can do in addition to the terrible grieving we must bear for the dead, the injured and the psychologically wounded.

Maybe we can use this horrible event to help us get real. Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do to honor these dead? And, yes, I’m coming around again to my thing about the cops, so hold on to your outrage and your Nordstrom watch cap: We’ll get there in a second.

The full horror, not to mention the unreality of some of the response to the horror, can’t be found in the shooting alone. No, to get to the full picture, we must also take in the subsequent vigil Sunday night in Pleasant Grove, where a TV news crew had to dive for cover and their van took bullet holes as gunfire broke out again, this time apparently without injury.

Think of it. The central event spawning this bloody mayhem was a college homecoming celebration. Homecoming. Let that sink in for a half-second.

A&M-Commerce’s principal response so far has been to deny all connection with or responsibility for what happened, and maybe we can get that, you and I. A&M didn’t tell 750 young people to gather in a metal party barn on a rural highway conveniently just outside the city limits and outside the police jurisdiction of nearby Greenville. A&M-Commerce certainly didn’t want its students to attend a shootout.

This could have been anywhere in this country and anyone. It's fairly insane to try to describe or understand gun mayhem according to race, class or culture, not that important people won’t try. You can be Trumpian and talk about gun death as something involving mainly young black gang members in Chicago. Or you can be me and worry that every young white man I see wandering the aisles of Walmart alone may be another zoned-out mass shooter.

Synagogue shooters, church shooters, homecoming shooters: Do we really believe this is an ethnic issue? Is swine flu ethnic? When do we focus on the shooting part?

After news of the gunfire at the Sunday night vigil, A&M-Commerce canceled its own previously announced vigil slated for Monday afternoon. Apparently, the university dealt insensitively with the issue of canceling classes. It didn't cancel, and then when nobody showed up, it did. But I'm glad they canceled the vigil. I wish somebody would cancel all of them.

I think these massacre vigils are becoming deeply sick. Who comes up with all those candles and balloons on such short notice? Are the party stores stocking them? Is there a section for vigil supplies? Some gruesome element of celebration has crept into these things, as if they were confetti parades. Everybody’s just a little too ready for his 15 seconds. Why doesn’t everybody just meet privately, stay out of view of the TV cameras and be very quiet and humbled by what has happened?

Someone will tell me that people need “closure.” What closure? Tell me what’s closing. The sewer of violence and slaughter looks to me like it just opens wider every day. There can be no closure until we close that. The rest is sentimentality and people giving themselves an excuse for inaction.

The young man arrested in the shootings — who may or may not be guilty of shooting anybody — said in a TV report Monday night that he went to the party in the metal barn Saturday night wearing a bulletproof plate-holding vest, without the protective plates, perhaps as a costume although he said he was sort of a security guard. I can’t even begin to fathom.

The party itself, and the barn, I think I do understand a little better. It’s a Dallas/East Texas thing. Rich Dallas people build boys-will-be-boys barns on their fake ranches that are really just places out of reach from Dallas police and social censure where they can get drunk and shoot guns. Their high school-age kids are sent there, too, so they can get drunk and do drugs without risking something on their records that might affect college admissions.

I guess “The Party Venue,” as it is called on Highway 380 just west of the Greenville city limits, democratizes all of that by providing a metal drunk barn away from the cops for young people whose parents don’t have their own ranches. And that’s not the problem. Young people do get drunk, get high, dance and, so I am told, also have sex, all of which seems to be an important element in the propagation of the species.

I’m sure we were all doing all that stuff when we were still living in caves, and human beings will still be doing it when they’re all living on space stations. In space there will be party venues. The party venue is not the issue.

The issue is insane, random, persistent and savage gun violence, which brings us back finally to the cops. In recent weeks I have taken a serious shellacking from readers who felt that I was sucking up to the cops in the two recent cases, one in Dallas and the other in Fort Worth, in which white police officers shot and killed innocent black citizens in their own homes.

Cops don't change society. They deal with what's already right there, right now.EXPAND
Cops don't change society. They deal with what's already right there, right now.
Brian Sevald

I don’t think I was. Sucking up. In both instances, I have gone out of my way not to pronounce opinions about the criminal guilt or innocence of the cops involved. But I am talking about the thing I mentioned here at the top — getting real.

If for no reason beyond survival as a society and a country, we have an obligation to ourselves to get real about the world into which we send our cops every day. It’s a world where, in the blink of an eye, a crazy-fun college homecoming party can turn into a nightmarish gun slaughter. People going to shul in a peaceful part of Pittsburgh can be slaughtered in their pews like penned cattle.

None of this is an excuse for trigger-happy racism on urban police forces. None of it means cops don’t need de-escalation or diversity training. Of course, it means they need more, and it means that police departments must work much harder to recruit the right police officers in the first place.

There’s really only one diversity training program that works anyway, and that’s diversity. If you have all kinds of cops from all kinds of backgrounds working shoulder to shoulder on a shared mission, the lightbulb is going to come on at a certain point, hopefully sooner rather than later, and they will all recognize their human commonality and their shared dignity. That even works in some cases for newspaper reporters.

But even when our cops are diverse, we are still sending our diverse cops out into a shit world. This is a shit world, and it’s our world, a place of our making, not the cops’. This is a country with more guns than people. On our streets an armed killer can be met around any corner, inside any vehicle pulled over on the side of the road, behind the door at every domestic violence call.

If you had to wear a gun on your hip, a badge on your shirt and a blue suit that’s nothing more than a bull’s-eye, and if you were under orders to walk straight into that stuff every time you saw it, might you not be a little jumpy sometimes? I’m not offering an excuse for bad cops. But I do want to ask a question that I think is important.

In our eagerness for cops to do better, for cops to be responsible, caring, connected members of the community, when does that same letter get to our own mailbox? When is it our job? Every time we ask the cops to be kinder and gentler, don’t we have to be kinder and gentler, too?

And let’s get down to the short ones here. We’re not really talking about kinder and gentler anyway, are we? I think we’re talking about shooting. That’s where this started.

We can expect the cops to stop drawing down on us and sticking guns in our faces about the same day we stop drawing down and sticking guns in their faces. That’s the rule of the gun, gun to gun.

You can invent all the other rules you want. You can institute all the training and indoctrination, all of the recruitment policies you think will help. But don’t expect any of that to help a whole lot as long as this is a society where homecoming parties turn to slaughters and synagogues become charnel houses in the blink of an eye.

Cops don’t change society. That’s not their job. Society changes society. Society stops smoking in the workplace. Society puts on seat belts. Society despises men who beat up other men for being gay. Cops don’t do any of that. Cops go out on the street and deal with what’s right there right now.

What’s out there right now is a shit world, a world where parents must worry every time their sons and daughters walk out the door that they will be murdered or that they will murder. That’s the same shit world that cops walk into at the beginning of every shift.

I’m not letting anybody off the hook. Nobody should get away with breaking the law. Nobody should get shot when they haven’t done anything wrong. But when the worst does happen, rather than the balloons and the candles and the 15 seconds on TV, rather than immediately looking for somebody in blue to blame, maybe we should all go home, shut the hell up for one evening, and silently and humbly ponder our own responsibility.

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