Monday, December 14 marked the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. This is a sad day made only more difficult because since that horrific event, gun violence has killed another 555 children under 12. It could be said that children have become an easy target. The mass closure of all the LAUSD schools this Tuesday would only reinforce that notion. Time, energy, and precious resources are now being spent as police search all 900 schools in the district while, once again, we all adjust to just how vulnerable we are.
Aside from arming ourselves and living and operating behind secure enclosures, what can we do to reverse this threatening epidemic that places our children at extraordinary risk in so many ways?
Our initial reaction, of course, is to assure safety, become vigilant, and offer a reasonable counter to any threat. However, such an approach can lead to an increased sense of paranoia and suspicion that could easily yield to excessive force, violence, and a dangerous reactionary cycle which serves only to exacerbate a bad situation. So although this may be an initial approach, it does not provide a sustainable long-term solution or address the issues that are at the core of the violence.
Many of the children, youth, and families we serve at Hillsides have either been the victims of violence or are at risk of experiencing it. For some, the threat is physical; for many, it is the emotional violence that comes from living in a dangerous environment with no assurances of security or safety. Either one is traumatizing and can trigger reactions that range from withdrawal to violent outbursts. Effective treatment of these traumas is made only more challenging in a world that seems more vulnerable to violence with each passing day.
Learning to live with such vulnerability while not succumbing to violence is the goal. Knowing what can be controlled while not becoming a victim is essential. For children in particular, recognizing who they can count on to protect and keep them safe is particularly important. Reinforcing familiar routines can also encourage the sense of well-being for children. After the recent shootings in San Bernardino, the city decided to go ahead with a holiday parade, principally to reassure the children in their community that although they were sad and grief- stricken, the rituals of the season would still be celebrated as a promise that everything would be okay.
All this can help to reassure our children, but it does address the proliferation of firearms, the paralyzing phobias that isolate people and communities from one another, or the lack of resources to address the most vulnerable who experience mental illness.
As we reassure our children throughout this holiday season, let us not lose sight of the bigger issues that threaten their well-being. Let’s encourage a public dialogue to help identify reasonable solutions to the core issues that fuel the unease we are experiencing. There are 555 reasons for such a discussion, a number that sadly, if we do not act, will only continue to grow.