“senseless”

On the evening of Friday, February 26, a spectator who wanted to enter the gym to watch a high school basketball game failed to comply with a request to wear a mask.

For whatever reason, John Shallerhorn took exception to the request. A confrontation took place between Mr. Shallerhorn and a school staff member. 

Tulane University Police Officer, Martinus Mitchum, who was working security for the game went to assist. Apparently, Officer Mitchum was able to get Mr. Shallerhorn out of the gymnasium. 

At that point, Mr. Shallerhorn pulled out a gun and shot Officer Mitchum in the chest. Transported to a local hospital, the officer later died from the wounds.

Tulane University Police Chief Kirk Bouyelas called Officer Mitchum’s death—“senseless and tragic.”

When I served as an assistant principal at a large suburban high school, attending athletic events was one of my responsibilities. The purpose was to keep an eye on the spectators. Police officers worked those events with us too. Rarely, did we have to call on them to assist us. 

Clearly, our high school athletic events were not trouble free. But usually,  spectators complied with reasonable request made by school personnel.

I wonder if Officer Mitchum would still be alive if Mr. Shallerhorn had complied with the request to wear a mask?

I also wonder if and when America will become tired of these “senseless” murders?

When are we going to say enough, and help people figure out that there are other ways to solve problems instead of pulling out a gun and taking a person’s life.

Sadly, I’m not sure Americans want to bring an end to gun violence.

We appear to have grown accustom to this pattern of disrespecting human life. In 2020, over 19,000 Americans died from gun violence.(Gun Violence Archive)

Just think of the impact of those losses.

 Life is forever changed for the trigger puller and the person killed by the bullets. Families and friends of these men must respond to the challenge of trying to put their own lives back together. 

Attempting to put lives back together in a tragedy like this is almost impossible. 

Sadly, I have seen first hand this excruciating pain. Close friends from college lost their youngest son to a “senseless” murder at the hands of a stranger. Almost two years after this tragedy, their hearts, their emotions, their souls have not healed. 

In all of those athletic events I worked, I noticed a difference about nightfall and daylight. A handful of times a severe, late fall thunderstorm would force football game officials to postpone the game for that night. 

 Usually, the game was rescheduled for the next day to be played in daylight on a pretty Saturday afternoon. Those Saturday afternoon games were as calm as a church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

To me the difference in setting between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon was the darkness. There is something about darkness, the cover it provides, that seemingly makes a person a bit more brazen.

I wonder what made Mr. Shallerhorn, the trigger puller, so brazen on this evening at a New Orleans high school? What darkness snapped inside of him?

According to media reports, he had some prior skirmishes in not complying with laws in our society. After killing Officer Mitchum, police officials learned that before Mr. Shallerhorn entered the gym, he robbed a person of a gold chain. The victim, who was simply sitting in his car, cooperated when Mr. Shallerhorn raised his shirt to expose a gun tucked into his waistband.

Officer Mitchum was described by colleagues as a “dedicated police professional who had a heart of service for the Tulane community.” With no hesitation, Officer Mitchum’s dedicated heart of service responded to the school staff person in need. 

I assume countless times in his career Officer Mitchum’s heart of service had responded to similar circumstances. But, on this evening, he encountered the wrong heart. A heart that for whatever reason did not stop to think before pulling the trigger.

Every community in America has a Mr. Shallerhorn and an Officer Mitchum.

And every community in America has these sad, senseless, tragic stories left to families to wrestle with in their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Why?

There are many reasons.

But ask yourself this— why is America very adept at launching billions of dollars into space exploration, but very inept at solving our country’s internal problems?

Seeking solutions for “senseless tragedies” will be tough work.

That tough work is a two way street. Potential solutions must include learning from the troubled heart and the dedicated heart of service.

This is urgent work. 

We can’t delay.

All of our hearts need these “senseless tragedies” to stop.

Writer’s note— news feeds from the Associated Press and assorted New Orleans media outlets were reviewed in preparing this piece. For me my writing start date was 3/5/21. Also, the photograph was taken by me. The handgun pictured belongs to a friend who has the proper training and licensing credentials to own it. Bill Pike

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