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  • Writer's pictureHoward McBroom

Tragedy at Highland Park

Everybody knows what happened at Highland Park, Illinois on the fourth of July. A very troubled young man opened fire at a parade, killing seven people and wounding at least thirty others. Two of the fatalities were the father and mother of a toddler who is now being raised by his grandparents, and one of the wounded is an 8-year old boy who is now paralyzed from the waist down. The killer has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and although this will ensure he stays in prison for life, it will not bring back the dead. This crime has crushed the soul of America. If you’re not safe on the fourth of July at a parade, where are you safe? The answer is: you aren’t safe anywhere. We can die at any time at any place for any reason. This is the cruel, hard truth. We have ourselves to blame for this. This young man needed all the help in the world and never got it. He had a very disorganized home life. His father and mother were alcoholics, they fought a lot, and the police were called several times to the home. One time, his mother called the police because she was afraid her husband was going to beat her up. However, when they got there, she said everything was fine. This was a recurring pattern – they would get into a fight, the police would be called, but then they would say everything was okay. In 2019, their son tried to commit suicide and threatened to kill everyone in the family, but as their usual pattern went, when the police came, the parents said everything was okay. When the police asked the son if he was currently suicidal, he said no. Because of that, no action was taken. Under current laws, you can only take action if the person is in imminent danger - if they say they’re now feeling suicidal or now want to hurt somebody else. So when he said no, they couldn’t do anything about it and there were no charges. When he later went to buy his guns, there were no red flag warnings to prevent the store owner from selling him the guns. All five guns were bought legally. He fell through the cracks. The final blow that led him to commit the mass shooting was when he was told he was going to be evicted from his apartment and when the girl he was desperate to date refused to date him. After that, he had nothing left to lose. He was a high school dropout and knew he had no hope and no future. There was no reason for him to hold back any longer, so he climbed a fire escape on the fourth of July and opened fire, killing seven people.

I know what it’s like to grow up in a bad home environment. You have no idea of what normal family life is like and deep in your heart, you know there is no hope and no future. What our mental health system does not realize is that an incident like this means the person believes violence is their only answer. The shooter believed violence was his only power, and his parents were in total denial about what he did. They refused to face up to the reality that their son was in big trouble and that they were responsible for a big part of it. Because of their lack of cooperation earlier in his life, there was nothing the police nor the mental health system could do to help him before he exploded. When you live like that, you can’t develop respect for human life or love for people because there is nowhere you can learn that from. You have no idea what it’s like to grow up in a good, loving, caring family that promotes respect for people and where children are loved, cherished and protected. All you know is parents fighting all the time, getting drunk, and calling the police on one another. When I was in high school, I would try to imagine what it would be like to grow up in a good family. However, I couldn’t imagine it. My mind would simply switch off and I would blank out at the thought.

These shooters go from one crisis to another and the hate builds up within them until a final catastrophic event happens, like being evicted from an apartment or having the girl you desperately want to date turn you down. Then, you explode. This is why we aren’t safe anywhere. We can be killed at any time at any moment because there are thousands of human time bombs out there who need a great deal of help. What can we do? We need to restructure our mental health system and have a greater understanding of what it’s like to grow up in a bad environment. In situations like this, we need to understand that these people think violence is the only power they have and that there’s no way out. We need to use the principles of self-determination and person-centered planning to help. We need to organize a team of people who understand their problems, can sit down and work with them to find out what they’re good at, and help them build on their strengths. I’m sure this man could’ve done something more than just shoot people at a parade on the fourth of July. There was surely some kind of strength they could’ve built on to give him a better life. We need a mental health system that can help these people. If we don’t do this, shootings are going to keep happening and we’re going to have one killing spree after another as each human time bomb explodes and we lose our democracy completely. What good is a democracy that can’t protect its people from mass murder? When people are killed like this, it drives a stake right through the heart of American society.

Guns are an important part of the problem and we do need gun control, but what we need even more than that is a mental health system that understands shooters and can bring them real hope. When somebody goes into a gun store to buy an assault weapon, we need to ask them why they want the gun and what they need it for. Then, we need to get them into a system that can truly help them and give them the skills they need. We need to teach people how to get along with others, how to hold a job, and how to continue with their education. The principles behind self-determination and person-centered planning programs are designed for people with developmental disabilities such as autism, but I believe they can also be used to help people who resort to violence. We must help people like that, if only to protect ourselves.

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