June 17, 2015. One year ago. Almost to the day. A shooter sat in silence for an hour listening to a Bible class being taught at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. He stood up and began shooting without mercy, executing nine innocent people.
June 12, 2016. Yesterday. A shooter walked into a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando. He began shooting without mercy, killing 49 innocent people and wounding 53 others.
According to the news, in South Carolina the shooter was an American white man born in Columbia, S.C. Twenty-two years old. He was listed on the roles of a local Lutheran congregation. He had sympathies with white supremacist groups. The shooting followed a horrific year of unarmed young black men and boys being killed by police officers and contentious debates about the appropriateness of the Confederate battle flag as an official state symbol throughout the South. The shooter targeted African Americans.
This time, according to the news in Orlando, the shooter was an American of Afghan descent. Twenty-nine years old. He was Muslim. He had sympathies with terrorist groups.
The shooting followed a year when the Supreme Court declared that gay marriage was protected by the Constitution, and at least seven states immediately turned their attention, as if simultaneously choreographed, to the transgender community and contentious debates on legislation to require them to use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificates instead of the one that corresponded to their outward appearance and internal identity.The shooter targeted LGBT people.
Donald Trump issued an instant I Told You So tweet: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
In the wake of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, it’s inevitable that school kids of all ages will hear snippets of the news and be confused and even afraid. At least 49 people are dead and 53 are wounded after a lone gunman, identified as Omar Sassiqui Mateen, targeted the LGBTQ community when he opened fire at a popular Orlando gay nightclub. The shooting is being investigated as a terror attack and analysis and reactions to the attack are dominating headlines.
“Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” President Obama said in a statement. “And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”
Mass shootings are no longer rare occurrences and it’s understandable that children will be worried that something might happen to them or to those they love. They will have questions and it’s important that trusted adults like parents and educators address their concerns rather than trying to shelter them.
It’s also important to emphasize that no group of people should be feared because of the act of one person. The responsibility of educators includes battling hate and teaching tolerance and understanding of all people, especially in the aftermath of a horrific attack like the one in Orlando.
“Good people are dead again because of easy hate and easy guns. You cannot build a wall to protect against that. You have to fight it from within and speak the truth, standing up to those to teach hate and those who learn hate,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Orlando, we are holding you in love. In a thousand ways, we will turn our powerful love into powerful actions and stand against the hate that was unleashed against you. Hate cannot stand against the love we hold within our universal humanity.”
The National Association of School Psychologists offers the following tips for talking to your students about mass shootings and other national tragedies: