“Angry and sad.”
That’s how former Ingraham High School student Amelia Payne Garcia described feeling the day after last Tuesday’s killing of a 17-year-old student at the school she graduated from in 2022.
The 18-year-old Seattle Central College student is not just angry and sad at the tragic loss of a boy’s life, but also at a society that creates children — often boys — who don’t have the skills to manage their emotions and conflict in healthy ways and then resort to violence.
A 14-year-old boy was arrested and detained after the killing and a second boy, 15, is being held as well.
I feel angry and sad, too. Not just angry and sad but frustrated, weary and a little bit hopeless.
How many times have we seen this play out across the country? How many of our children and relatives have been killed, injured or scarred by the resulting trauma? How many times have we said we need to do something about it, only to see little to nothing change?
The killing at Ingraham may have been the first inside a Seattle Public School in nearly 30 years, but our epidemic of gun violence continues unabated. There were more than 45,000 gun fatalities in 2021 from homicide and suicide, and firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and teens.
We don’t like to talk much about it, but 60% of gun deaths are suicides and while most media coverage focuses on mass shootings, the reality is that killings of four or more people account for fewer than 1% of people killed by firearms.
As Payne Garcia said, “If you want change, you have to start at the root of the issue. It’s heartbreaking that a child ruined his own life and took someone else’s. But to ignore the systemic attributes that helped lead to this issue is just going to continue the cycle that we have seen impact our community this week.”
The truth is, when a 14-year-old child picks up a gun, the failure is on us as adults and as a society.
I thought about what she said while attending the memorial last Thursday for D’Vonne Pickett Jr., another life senselessly lost to gun violence.
In Pickett’s case, though, the bitter irony was that he was a person who lived his life to create the changes that break the cycle Payne Garcia spoke about. Speaker after speaker at his service said he was the guy who took the time to support young people, especially boys, through his coaching work with the CD Panthers youth football team, through his community involvement, through the love he gave to his community and family.
Minister Danny Cage Jr. said at the service, “We hear people say D’Vonne was a pillar of the community. But he wasn’t just a regular pillar or a decorative pillar. He was a load-bearing pillar.” Cage challenged the rest of us to do more to bear the load Pickett carried with such a loving and positive spirit.
One of the ways we can carry that load is by listening to young people and acting on what they think are the solutions. From Payne Garcia’s perspective, there are a few areas that we could focus more attention on: One is to openly and honestly talk as a school and larger community about the emotions and fears that are coming up when violence happens, not ignore them or sweep them under the rug. She said it’s the inability to process feelings in healthy ways that drive a lot of the core conflicts and that both adults and young people lack the skills necessary to manage their emotions — that has to change.
She also said we need to take gun reform and access to guns seriously, which, she acknowledges, is said every time a tragedy occurs. Yet nothing ever changes from the people who are currently in policymaking positions.
Maybe our only hope is for younger generations to take the reins since older generations have shown ourselves unwilling or incapable. It’s already happening.
Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, was elected last week in Florida as the first Gen Z member of Congress. He got his start as a gun control activist after the Newtown massacre of elementary school students in 2012. As he wrote on Twitter, “I started Organizing at 15 because I didn’t want to get shot at school.”
Sadly it seems like decades of inaction have forced the generations raised with active shooter drills to save themselves. They shouldn’t have to.