Dear Howard University Community,
I know that we are all devastated and angered by the news of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed at least 21 people, including 19 children. Our hearts are filled with sympathy for the parents who have lost their precious sons and daughters; for the students at the school who have lost classmates and themselves endured such horror and trauma; for the teachers and administrators of Robb Elementary whose lives will forever be affected by this tragedy. We must also remember all who were impacted by past school shootings, from Sandy Hook to Parkland, whose pain must have been awakened and felt anew in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragic event.
Institutions of learning should be some of the most sacred and secure spaces in our society, where our children should be free to live and learn and grow – without fear. When children sense that they are unsafe, fear crowds out the room in their minds that should be reserved for their education and development. If we cannot guarantee the safety of our schools, then our entire society will suffer the consequences.
I am sure that we are all understandably curious to discover the motive of the shooter, especially as yesterday’s attack came on the heels of the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, whose perpetrator targeted a grocery store in a Black community and posted a racist diatribe prior to committing this heinous act. But these mass tragedies are defined by their senselessness. No insight about the shooter can dispel the feeling of helplessness that is gripping each of us and the psyche of our nation at this moment. We can never fully understand what possesses a person to kill innocent people, whether they are children; Black shoppers at a grocery store; or worshippers at a church, synagogue or mosque.
However, we cannot allow feelings of helplessness to prevent us from taking action. We cannot stew in anger without using it as motivation to fuel our purpose. We cannot be saddened without also being resolved to end this cycle of tragedy.
These senseless shootings should be more than tragic – they should be unfathomable and intolerable. I recognize that we have said this before; indeed, we have dedicated ourselves to ending gun violence in the wake of just about every mass shooting without seeing the results we have promised to deliver. But the unkept promises of the past should never be an excuse to stop trying in the present.
Our purpose is to put an end to school shootings and mass tragedies perpetrated by gun violence. No other result is acceptable. While our politics may differ, our priorities may diverge, the liberties we hold sacrosanct may deviate, we can all find common ground in the end result we are striving to achieve. As I said in a recent co-authored op-ed in The Hill, our communities are under attack, and we need to take decisive action to safeguard our spaces – and we must take a final stand to eradicate gun violence and mass tragedies as a stain on the modern-day American experience.
We will never forget the tragedy at Robb Elementary School. But its grip on our nation’s consciousness will slacken over time. It is imperative that we act now, in this very moment. Already, our nation is inching closer and closer to the next tragedy. We must find some means of stopping it before it comes to pass. Reasonable people disagree about the effectiveness of different remedies. But disagreements and uncertainty cannot stop us from taking action. We have to act. We have to try. And when and if we fail, we must try again.
In the days ahead, I will be organizing a gun violence prevention taskforce comprised of Howard University students, faculty and staff members to develop recommendations and proposals that we will deliver to policymakers. Howard has always been a bastion of innovative ideas that solve our society’s most intractable and urgent problems. On this issue, I am confident that we will once again prove to be of tremendous benefit to our nation.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA
Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery