“Have we really not moved past this?” “Is America still full of a populace so violent by nature that it takes great shock served in a 60-second news bulletin to cause us to reconsider our values?”
I find myself asking these questions every time violent tragedy strikes one of our nation’s public schools, and in these times that seems to occur with saddening frequency.
Jaime Gonzalez Jr., a 15-year-old 8th-grader was gunned down by Texas police in the hallways of Cummings Middle School in Brownsville, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 4. According to police, Gonzalez Jr. first randomly assaulted another student in a classroom that morning before running out of his class and refusing to return. School officials tried to calm him in the hallway until they noticed that the boy was brandishing what appeared to be a gun in his waistband. Allegedly, Gonzalez Jr. was asked if it was indeed a gun in his waistband and answered that it was. School administrators then ordered a lockdown of the school’s classrooms and called police, who arrived on the scene promptly.
The police confronted Jaime in one of the schools main hallways and yelled to him to put down the gun. Their shouts can be heard in the 911 call released to the media several days after the incident. Jaime refused and began to point the gun at the officers surrounding him. Jaime was then shot at and struck by two officers. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead at 9:15 a.m. from gunshot wounds to the arm and abdomen. Jaime was not, in fact, holding a true firearm but rather a high-powered BB pistol that closely resembled a Glock semiautomatic handgun.
There is too much wrong here to select an objectively correct starting point from which to begin critical observation. It would be easy to object to the school administrators’ decision to call armed police had the boy not indeed told them that it was a gun he was carrying. Fault could be laid upon the police department for what some might deem excessive response — two gunshots, one near major organs and clearly intended to kill and not simply immobilize — but these individuals were acting as they were trained to, and nothing more.
As sad and enraging as the death of a young student is, the problem lies not with anyone who was present at the scene of Jaime’s death that morning. This instance is instead indicative of a larger issue in our nation. We need to stop encouraging violence among our youth. We live in a culture that promotes ideas of violence and manhood through physical harm like nowhere else on the planet.
For proof of this, one need not look further than the clear examples of how guns manifest themselves across culture — particularly male culture. Young kids play with Nerf and squirt guns, which they quickly trade for the paintball and pellet prone bliss of later adolescence. We raise our children to love guns and to embrace the culture behind them without ever actually teaching them the responsibility that must be used when handling the real thing — or pretending to.
Jaime’s death is a terrible tragedy but sadder still remains the fact that in all likelihood we will not learn from his and his family’s misfortune. It is with little optimism for change that I maintain my belief that American culture needs to move away from glorified violence and towards education and personal responsibility.