Friends, today Friday, June 10, I was honored to have the following op-ed piece published in the Roanoke Times.
Pike: We must repair our social infrastructure to reduce gun violence
On Tuesday, May 24, I called a college friend. May 24 is a tough day for my friend and his wife. Three years ago, they lost their youngest son to an encounter with a stranger and his handgun.
Later that afternoon, my wife reported to me the tragedy at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. My wife has a niece with three children in Texas.
Even though her niece doesn’t reside in Uvalde, my wife was concerned. Doesn’t matter where you live in America, there is no immunity from gun violence.
For too long, Americans have become senselessly skilled at taking human life with firearms.
For 31 years, I had the privilege of working in the public schools of Virginia.
As an assistant principal at a large high school outside of Richmond, sometimes we found ourselves working with a student who brought a handgun to school. Fortunately, we never had to deal with a tragedy. However, the real tragedy was that a high school student could so easily gain access to a handgun.
Situations like that forced school systems to work to improve security. Consultation with local police departments resulted in resource officers being assigned to schools.
School personnel participated in staff development programs presented by experts who had researched data and conducted countless interviews with responding officers, school officials, survivors, and sometimes the shooter. From this work, security plans were developed and implemented. Safety drills occurred at every grade level.
Concerned community leaders worked with local, state, and federal agencies to advocate for new legislation with the goal to make purchasing a firearm more difficult.
And despite these efforts, we continue to be confronted with unacceptable shootings in our schools and communities.
Have we become numb to this epidemic and lost our compassion to care?
Have we lost our ability to recognize and understand the truth about the challenges America faces?
Do we realize America is a mess, and that we have been slowly eroding for a long time?
With regard to those questions, here are my thoughts.
I think we still care. But I’m not sure we care enough. If we did, we should have solved this madness a long time ago.
The last few years have clearly illustrated our desire to believe more in disinformation rather than digging out the hard truths of our dysfunction.
No one wants to admit we are a mess, but America is a mess. We need to do the unthinkable — sit down with our differences and division, and in a civil, cooperative manner resolve to stop this murderous mess.
Our post tragedy templates are very predictable. Lots of talk, lots of finger pointing, lots of promises, and no solutions developed.
We were wise to support and fund the ongoing restoration of our aging infrastructure systems. But when will we realize that our vicious human infrastructure cycles of poverty, housing, mental health, education and justice are in critical need of support, too? Which is more important: spending billions to explore space, or solving the desperate needs of our human infrastructure?
The longer I worked in schools, the more I realized how fragile our families had become.
According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, the United States has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. That rate topped out at 23% — almost a quarter of our population.
Even in a normal family setting, parenting is challenging work. I can’t imagine the challenges a single parent faces trying to manage day to day living in an unstable environment.
How many challenges for schools, communities, and juvenile justice systems emerge from those single parent environments? How many shooters materialized from America’s inability to stabilize our families?
As a parent, grandparent, and retired educator my heart has ached through too many of these senseless tragedies.
America is overdue to develop and commit to a plan to stop this unacceptable loss of human life. It is shameful that America with its public and private resources can’t come together to solve this cruel sickness.
This matter is urgent. It is not going away.
The quietness of our collective voices can no longer be silent.
If we remain silent with no moral fiber to stop these deplorable tragedies, then we will continue to see the human erosion of America from sea to shining sea.
Our stubborn, inconsiderate, divided hearts must do better. We must stop our procrastination. Failure to respond will mean more of the same, and that isn’t acceptable.
Pike is a retired educator who has served on his local school board in Henrico County.