Floor plan

Police appear confused that they did not confront Uvalde’s shooter

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Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies crowd the hallway of an elementary school while a mass shooter remains in the building.

Austin/AP American Statesman

It’s not easy to make sense of the 77-minute video shot from an aerial camera near classrooms where 19 children and two teachers were murdered in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.

The video – published last week by the Austin American-Statesman – has an audio track that is scrambled to near unintelligibility. The gunshots – over a hundred – are audible, but the screams of terrified children have rightly been suppressed. The camera captures an important slice of the events of May 24, but only a slice.

In other words, an important part of the context is not represented in the video. But there’s enough to deeply disturb most viewers.

A first attempt to subdue the shooter fails. Then the video shows over an hour of powerful, well-armed men walking around the lobby, seemingly unsure of what to do.

Sometimes they barricade themselves behind ballistic shields and drag four or five guns down a long, empty hallway to the classrooms for minutes at a time. Other times, they wander down the same hallway, seemingly unconcerned.

Sometimes officers – representing at least five law enforcement agencies – appear to be examining the floor plan of the building. Sometimes they text or talk on their phone. They gesture, greet each other, signal each other, seeming to plan and strategize, but then, for long minutes, nothing happens.

At one point, an armed, helmeted member of the Sheriff’s Department casually wanders into an area previously barricaded by four or five men to use the wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser.

In short, it’s hard to say what, if anything, is going on. The word that came to mind as I watched was “confusion”.

Experts better trained to assess such situations have not spared their criticisms. Former Austin, Houston and Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo called the episode “the most incompetent response I’ve ever seen.” It’s not defensible. »

Acevedo is right: the inaction of these officers is impossible to defend. But at the risk of appearing to defend them, I offer two pieces of context that are not immediately apparent in the video: Despite the bluster and bravado of some, none of us know how we would behave under these circumstances. After the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead, former President Donald Trump said he would have rushed into the building “even if I didn’t have a gun.”

Sure.

But more thoughtful people have to admit that even if they think they know what they would do, they can’t know for sure until they’re in the situation. Of course, this is not a defense of these officers. Poor leadership and a lack of courage seem to have them immobilized. If they do not have the initiative and the courage to act, they are in the wrong profession.

The second element that is not immediately apparent in the video is also not a defense of them. But it sheds light on the question of responsibility for Uvalde’s failures. The shooter grew up in a culture awash with guns. It’s not just the 400 million guns in private hands. Gunplay is an essential part of our entertainment, in movies, television and video games. Kids can’t be blamed for growing up thinking guns are part of what it means to be an American.

Uvalde’s shot-stopper obviously had mental issues, but no one paid much attention to that. However, as soon as he turned 18, we gave him legal access to powerful, high-capacity weapons of war.

Some things the officers milling about in the hallway could be sure of: The boy was in a defensive position. He was probably ready to die. He most likely had a magazine in his semi-automatic weapon which holds at least 30 rounds.

If you judge these officers harshly, well, they deserve it. But don’t forget that we’re asking them to do something that you and I might not have the courage to do. And the most important thing that would make the jobs of these officers a little safer – limiting access to high-powered, high-capacity semi-automatic weapons – we absolutely refuse to do.

John M. Crisp, columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Texas.

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Crisp

This story was originally published July 18, 2022 2:57 p.m.