The victims of mass shootings in the United States are more than those we bury. I do not want to understand the perpetrators of mass shootings. Others must do that. I have no room in my heart to explain and understand why they are also victims.
How do you describe the deepest grief of parents who have lost a child in a school shooting and are now sitting in a courtroom listening to their child’s name and cause of death read out loud while a 22-year-old killer and the rest of the world look on? The other day, CNN broadcast live from a courtroom in Florida, where the perpetrator of the Parkland shooting was to receive his sentencing. At 19, he killed 17 people at a high school with an automatic riffle.
For several days, I have been thinking about how to describe the grief. No words can seem to be sufficient. No matter how we all feel, nothing compares to the feelings of those who loose loved ones.
Grief is hard as flint and soft as a heart. It is expressed in the chain bearing a son’s name in gracefully curved letters above a silver heart around a mother’s neck, it is seen in the upturned red-rimmed eyes fastened to the ceiling of the courtroom, it is evident in the tapping of a manicured index fingernail on a mother’s upper arm, it is present in the gaze set on infinity as the camera zooms in as the name of a son or daughter is read aloud. We watch it, grief, in the involuntary muscle movements around a mouth in an attempt to control emotions in a public space where the world is watching.
In the courtroom, parents, siblings and grandparents were seated across from the defendant, who was awaiting his sentencing. Wiping away tears, I had to look away. To me, the panning seemed too invasive.
But I was also affected because these parents are living my worst nightmare.
For me, it began with the mass shooting at a school for 0.-5. graders, Sandy Hook in 2012, where a 20-year-old man shot 20 children aged six to seven and six adults. At that time, we had been living in the US for two years and were still in that phase where most things were new and exciting.
My children were two and five years old, the same age as many children at the Sandy Hook school. That day, scales fell from my eyes, and I woke up abruptly to the reality that has since been a part of every day life here in the United States. I started telling my kids what to do if they were in the theater with the school and something bad happened; I talked to them about what to do at the cinema, at school – wherever they were if a bad guy did something.
Every month, all children here in the United States have some sort of exercise to prepare them for possible disasters such as “active shooter drills”, bears, earthquakes, lockdown, lockout etc. That´s just part of their everyday school life. My children learn at which angles to hide in their classroom, so that they are not visible from the hallway if there is a gunman at school; they learn to run from school to the nearest neighbor if they are in a situation where they can; they learn to hide in classes while continuing their school work if there is a lockout.
Since the day small children were murdered at Sandy Hook, according to Time, almost 1,000 shootings have taken place at schools and universities in the United States. More than 300,000 children and youth have experienced gun violence in American schools. It is a reality they live with. It is a reality we as parents live with.
I do not want to understand the perpetrators of mass shootings. Others must do that. I have no room in my heart to explain and understand why they are also victims.
My values have shifted since I lived in Denmark. Of course, I was not in favor of the death penalty, what a barbaric thought, what a resigned attitude to the possibility of rehabilitation of fellow human beings! But the USA is not Denmark. Here, a young person can waltz into the nearest gun or sporting goods store and acquire an automatic weapon designed for use in war zones and drive straight to the nearest elementary school, where six and seven-year-old students sit and draw, and gun them down.
So the US has changed my values. I know, research shows that long prison sentences do not equate rehabilitation. But for my faith in the judicial system and in the system overall, I want the death penalty when there is absolutely no doubt about who the perpetrator is and no question of his or her guilt in a heinous and cruel act of criminality such as a school shooting.
The man who murdered 17 people in cold blood at a high school, including the three adults who heroically ran toward the assailant and tried to help the high school students escape, will spend the rest of his life in prison. I would rather see him get electrocuted than a life of more prison violence against officers, love letters from women all over the world, as well as books and films written about his life.
My daughter just started high school. The other day she showed me around her school. “Here is the band room, here we have chemistry, over here algebra.” She is a happy teenager, full of life and a desire for learning. While my eyes darted about, I followed her from classroom to classroom. “How exciting, honey!,” I managed to say before the next sentence flew out of my mouth: “Do you know where the exits are? Do you know how to get out as quickly as possible?’
Without a flinch, she answered in the affirmative. Because we are all victims in this country, and we live with that as best we can.
USA har ændret mine værdier: Skyderierne har gjort, at jeg går ind for dødsstraf
Ofrene for masseskyderier i USA er flere end dem, vi begraver. Jeg forholder mig ikke til gerningsmændene. Det må andre gøre. Der er ikke plads i mit hjerte til at forklare og forstå, hvorfor de også er ofre.