Days after the horrific school shooting in my town of Parkland, Florida, we are reminded of some of the grim realities in America. Today when I leave my neighborhood I see hearses driving children to be laid to rest; memorial services and wakes have flooded our neighborhoods; crosses are planted in our recreation center and parks to pay respect to the angels that were lost. Life as we know it in Parkland has come to a halt. There are no weekend soccer games, no morning bike rides . . . instead replaced by a somber energy in the air for many of us parents who know in our hearts that this tragedy could have been avoided.
My kids and my family were spared from this vicious Valentine's Day attack. My son Jared, 19, is a sophomore at nearby FIU; my pre-K-aged son attends school across town; and my 3-month-old was home with her beautiful mother. As the tormented killer walked 1.5 miles of our streets for almost an hour after this attack, many of us frantically tried to locate our families and lock down our homes.
Some of my friends, neighbors, and colleagues were not so lucky. They had children hiding in closets as gunshots rang out, and others waited anxiously as their children were on lockdown in the high school, middle school, and elementary schools, which are all located steps away from each other. Their families are now forever traumatized by this horrific tragedy and we turn to God for guidance.
The First Generation
We are witnessing the first generation of kids who have grown up in an America that has accepted an attack on faith and prayer in our schools. This is the first generation of kids in America that has grown up their entire lives playing violent video games with graphics that look and feel like real-life street warfare. This is the first generation of kids in America facing a bullying epidemic has been escalated because outcast and lonely kids can turn to the evils of social media and the internet as their escape from reality. This is the first generation of kids in America that has the ability to access the world on a cell phone without the need for human interaction. It's the first generation to listen to Billboard Top 40 songs that promote and normalize the use of the same opioids that have resulted in the worst drug crisis in modern history, the first generation to watch their country attack its vice president for his faith in God, the first generation allowed to embrace the victim role for just about any issue that arises, the first generation to have to live with the reality that this country has shifted from “One Nation Under God” to “One Nation Under Media."
America's Gross Negligence
No matter what side of the gun debate you're on, I think most sane adults can agree that no 18-year-old has any business being able to buy an AR-15 assault rifle. I also think that we can all agree that after hundreds of recent school shootings across America, a school with 3,200 kids contained in one building should at least have a metal detector and a few security guards. Let's be honest: We secure office buildings, airports, and sporting events more than we do our schools. Don’t our kids warrant at least one armed security guard per thousand students?
We fill the airways with the modern cliché “see something, say something." But the reality is, the local police and FBI actually saw something and did nothing in the months leading up to the Parkland tragedy. The police went to the 19-year-old suspect's house dozens of times and the FBI was provided detailed information about his mental state, gun possession, and his public threat to shoot up a school. Just writing this gives me the chills. As an African American father of a 19-year-old, living in Parkland, Florida, and searching for answers to why law enforcement allowed the the killer to execute this premeditated tragedy, the realities are troubling.
I know one thing for sure: No law enforcement agency in America would ever give a black man or Muslim a fraction of this leniency. What if my son had the police called on him 40 times? What if my son was brandishing a gun on social media and threatening to become a school shooter? We all know the circumstances would have been different and he would have been locked up or at least arrested and taken in for questioning and monitoring.
What Does Equality Have to Do With It?
The main reason I moved my family to Parkland nearly five years ago was to live in the safest community in Florida and so my kids would have the opportunity to graduate from Stoneman Douglas High School. I grew up in a similar high school environment in Texas and it gave me the opportunity to earn an athletic scholarship, play in the NFL, and go on to travel the world helping underserved communities. The only real issues that I faced a little more than 20 years ago in my Texas town were the realities of race, which brought on violence, hate groups like the KKK, and a few angry dads who wanted to keep their white daughters away from a kid with a little more pigment. So what does race have to do with the Parkland school shooting?
The answer should be nothing, but that's just not the reality in today's America. Our country's reality is this: If the 19-year-old killer had been my 19-year-old black son, or even a Muslim American child or any kid with darker skin, there is no doubt that after several police visits and a detailed FBI report, he would have been locked up. After 40 police visits, a school expulsion, and a ban on being able to carrying a backpack, this issue went far beyond mental health or gun safety; it poked its ugly head into the territory of white privilege and equality.
I don’t want this to come across as me attacking law enforcement, and I should mention that I proudly serve as the spokesman and ambassador for the National Police Athletic Leagues and my family are loyal supporters and donors to the Florida Sheriffs Association, which happens to police our community. But at the same time, I realize that the truth is often dirty and the stakes are too high for me not to address these issues. There was only one way for us to realistically avoid this horrific tragedy given our current gun laws and mental health protocols. The responsibility was on law enforcement and the FBI to do their jobs when they received the countless warnings.
It's a sad reality that most refuse to discuss: If only the extreme right wings of our country could stop empowering our law enforcement, leaders, and even our communities and families from subconsciously making differences in people based on the color of their skin and the faith that they choose to follow. "One Nation Under God" means a nation under faith, love, and equality. If we really bought into these founding principles, then our nation wouldn’t be as divided. We would avoid bias that leads to tragedies like we experienced in Parkland. America could start to heal many of the deep-rooted evils that are causing us so much pain today. All this translates to us working harder to become a country that embodies our nation's mission of being “One Nation under God.”
Jack Brewer is a former NFL player who lives in Parkland, Florida.
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