Where there’s smoke…

Imagine This

It’s 7 in the morning.  You look out your door and you see some smoke, not a lot, coming from your neighbor’s house.  You think maybe his house is on fire.  So you call the Fire Department directly and tell them.  The Fire Department says “well does he have a gas grill?  Maybe he’s just grilling some sausage.”

So you hang up.  You look out ten minutes later and there is more smoke.  Geez, it’s black.  You call the fire department again, and this time they tell you to call 911.  But, you’ve already called once.  No sense being an alarmist.

You think, perhaps I should go warn Jacob and Leticia about the smoke.  They have two kids, you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them, but then again you think, who needs a buttinsky neighbor?

Fifteen minutes later you see the fire trucks arrive.  Although they battle the flames relentlessly, they cannot save the occupants who died from smoke inhalation.  You call the media and blame the fire department.  They should have acted on the first call, sent a fire truck, and investigated the smoke.  Where there is smoke, there’s fire!  The mayor calls for the fire chief’s head.  The fire chief, a bum by anyone’s measure, didn’t take the call, and didn’t make the decisions.  But his job is on the line.  The state fire marshall says it will investigate!

But…what about you?

What was your responsibility?

Sure, you could have gone over and knocked on the door, you could have investigated, you could have gotten the family out before it was too late.  But, you were worried about what people might think.  You were worried about what Jacob might think.  And now that there is a tragedy, you want to blame the only people with a duty to react.

The FBI is not ENTIRELY to Blame for Parkland

Does the situation above sound familiar?

What is described above is almost exactly what happened with the Parkland shooter.  Lots of people knew the kid was dangerous.  Lots of people knew he had guns.  At least two people tried to alert authorities.  But no one – not one single person with knowledge – took direct action and marched down to the police station or FBI and stomped their feet until someone actually did something.

Government is like a freight train.  It takes a lot of energy to get it going, and once it’s going, it takes a lot of time to make it stop.  You don’t start a freight train with a 100 cc motorcycle engine.  Yet, calls to tip lines, made anonymously, do not guarantee a solution. They are, in fact, just a  100 cc engine in the giant cogs of government.  All calls to tip lines do is salve the conscience for later: “At least I tried!”

But, no, you didn’t.  You knew the skeevy little perv was planning to do this, you knew he had it in him, you knew he had guns, and you were worried about being ridiculed, or worse, sued.  You were scared for all the wrong reasons.  You should have been scared for all the right ones.

And what about the sheriff’s deputies who had been to the shooter’s house more than 22 times?  What is their responsibility.  Why did not they get involved with the state child welfare agency and force action.  The squeaky wheel, so they say, gets the grease.  Those deputies knew or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known that this kid was a loose cannon.  Where is their accountability?

While it is true that the FBI did not bring honor upon itself in this situation, it is not entirely to blame.  Every one of those kids who said “we knew he was going to do something like this” ought to have to go look at the bodies, see the holes, and face the families of the dead and listen to their wailing.

In 1982, when I was a therapist at St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida, I was on duty when fire-medics brought in a child who had drowned in Lake Worth.  The fire-medics had responded heroically for that 12 year old boy, and our ER crew worked tirelessly for almost an hour trying to get life signs back.  But it was futile.  In the end the ER doctor had to walk out and tell the family.  He did that as I was walking the ambu-bags back to the department, and if I live to be 100, I will never forget the wail of the mother of that child “My baby, my baby, he was only 12!”  I still tear up thinking about that day, and the profound loss that woman suffered.  And then I magnify it by 17, and don’t doubt that people are sick, scared and angry.

So, make them face the families.  Make them take accountability for the suffering they facilitated.  Make them understand that sometimes, when you see something, you need to do more than say something.  You need to stomp your feet, you need to raise the red flags, you need to take direct action!

We are all familiar with the story of Cain and Abel.  We know that we are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. Vicktor Frankl, the noted existential psychotherapist, said that “the last of a man’s freedoms is his ability to choose his reaction to a given situation.”  We need to stop choosing to be silent.  I have made that decision.

For several days now there has been a trailer parked on the road leading to my house.  It has no reflectors.  Along about dusk it all but disappears, and even with car lights on people have trouble seeing it.  So I called the police.  I asked them to do something.  They told me they could not do anything at that time, but that they would talk to the owner and warn him and if he didn’t do something about it, they would ticket him.

That’s not good enough for me.

I am buying traffic cones and placing them behind it.  If it saves a life, the $10 will be worth it.

And you.  The next time you see something, and say something, and nothing happens, you better be prepared to keep saying something until someone does something.  You owe that much to others.

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