The public was initially told that the 18-year-old who massacred 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School was encountered by a police officer before he entered the building.
The new story is that “he walked in unobstructed initially” after roaming around outside for 12 minutes and firing shots. But the most infuriating new development is this: the Chief of the Uvalde Police Department says officers “responded within minutes,” but it took police an hour for a tactical unit to move in on the mass school shooter. I guess it depends on your definition of “responded.”
The reason the police didn’t go in sooner? According to a Texas Department of Public Safety official, it was because “they could’ve been shot.”
Well, yes, that’s true—police officers could have been shot if they confronted a heavily armed madman. But that’s the paramount reason we have armed agents of the state in the first place, to defend the defenseless from murderous predators.
The official went on to rationalize the decision, saying that police were able to “contain” the gunman inside one classroom. This is great news, provided your kids weren’t barricaded in there with him. Calling 911 and begging for help. For at least a full 40 minutes.
This isn’t police-bashing. This is a call for basic accountability and humanity.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m too much of a wimp to sign up to be a cop. But once you sign up for that gig, it seems to me that you might want to be ready to do your job when a lunatic is murdering 19 little kids.
Okay, I know that very few rank-and-file officers would unilaterally go all “Dirty Harry”—disobeying their superiors’ orders and rushing to confront the bad guy with brute force. And there’s good reasons for that, not the least of which is maintaining the chain of command in a crisis. But unless this new reporting also ends up being erroneous, whoever ordered these cops to stand down and wait belongs in the same category in our cultural consciousness as that Parkland, Florida, officer who “retreated to a position of safety” instead of entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High during the massacre in February 2018.
It’s bad enough that officers failed to even attempt to confront the Uvalde shooter. What’s arguably worse is that police reportedly threw parents to the ground and pepper sprayed one parent. One woman told The Wall Street Journal she saw police use a taser on a father who wanted to go into the school and save his child. “They didn’t do that to the shooter, but they did that to us,” she said.
Parents viscerally knew that it was their moral responsibility to protect their children. Compassion and human decency demands intervening to prevent murder. The police were not proactively causing the harm, in this case. But common sense dictates that waiting outside was wrong. Still, we are trained to respect the experts. To respect authority. To let them do their jobs.
I accept that I might be labeled a keyboard warrior who is trying to tell the police what to do. And as someone viscerally averted to violent conflict, I’m certain I would be a very bad cop—which is why I never became one. But I’m not inherently hostile to the police. My father-in-law was a cop for years, and my dad was a correctional officer for 30 years (for a time, he led the prison’s tactical squad). This isn’t police-bashing. This is a call for basic accountability and humanity.
“Waiting an hour is disgusting,” said Sean Burke, a former school resource officer who is now the president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, a group that offers school districts training on how to respond to shootings. “If that turns out to be true, then it is a disgusting fact,” Burke told NBC News.
The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, apparently feels the same way. He said on Friday that the police commander who ordered officers to not breach the building during the siege made “the wrong decision,” Axios reported.
Police have a hard job, and it’s possible that some have checked out. Could recent criticism (particularly in the wake of the George Floyd murder) have caused some cops to adopt an attitude that dictates they will do the bare minimum, and not stick their neck out too far to help others? I think it’s plausible, if lamentable, when it comes to street crime (for example). But would that attitude prevent police from trying to rescue little kids?
Some have argued that in post-George Floyd America, cops are too worried about being caught on video doing something wrong, so in a crisis they might not take risks. It’s hard to think of a more grotesque cop-out.
The police officers who watched George Floyd be murdered by one of their colleagues had a choice as to whether they should intervene at an injustice unfolding before their eyes. So, too, did the officers who treated parents aggressively outside Robb Elementary School, while children were slaughtered on the other side of the school’s walls.
Excusing this inaction isn’t pro-cop. If anything, it makes a mockery of the value of good cops.
We need brave, ethical police officers, and we need their leaders to be competent and accountable. None of that was on display in Uvalde this week.