We’ve become desensitized to mass violence. I’m certainly not the first to point this out, and I won’t be the last. Tragedies (e.g., violent criminal acts) happen followed by outrage and sadness. Politicians and civic leaders tell us enough is enough. New solutions are proposed and bandy around. Some stick. Some don’t. Our sleepless news cycle covers it, and then it’s forgotten in a matter of days.
As a police chief responsible for the safety of an educational community, I remember when bad things were shocking and horrible. I remember when we knew about bad things before the community and we were able to control and shape the message. A message that explained the situation gave the needed assurances, instilled confidence that we were acting appropriately in our response, and restored a sense of safety to the community. Today, bad things happen, and we anticipate reports of the next bad thing. It’s no longer shocking.
Malcolm Gladwell explains a tipping point as, “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point,” when an idea spreads like wildfire. In this case, the tipping point arrived in the form of a handful of young people with a particular ability to speak emphatically, personally, and compassionately to the tragic loss of life; and the role that certain weapons played. The Parkland students’ message stuck and resonated.
Gladwell spoke to the fact that epidemics, “are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.” The Parkland tragedy hit on all of the above. A deranged individual with access to mass killing weapons took innocent lives. He did so at a time when kids across the nation were fed up with school violence. In the aftermath, a group of people realized they could speak to the establishment without care of political retribution.