One General Ethics Lesson From Uvalde: We All Have A Duty To Be Proactive Citizens [Corrected]

As with virtually all of the previous mass shootings (and Salvador Ramos’s mother’s infuriating statements notwithstanding), there were a plethora of ominous signs that this 18-year-old was a virtual ticking time bomb, and that he had gun violence on his mind. Yet nobody with that information did anything. Yes, hindsight bias is, as the saying goes, 20-20, and yes, the fact that the Uvalde killer went through with his stated fantasies and desires and murdered 19 children and two adults is moral luck of the bad variety, just as his doing nothing would have been moral luck of the fortunate variety. The point is that pro-active citizenship could have prevented the tragedy, as it could prevent many tragedies.

More such information will probably emerge but so far we know…

  • For days, Ramos had been telling one girl online in Germany that he had “a secret” that he would eventually reveal. When he said he was about to attack the elementary school, she was not sure if he was serious and did not make any effort to contact the police.

 

This is basic ethics decision-making: if you are wrong about one course of action and the worst consequence is sounding a false alarm, and the consequence of the alternate choice is that people die, the decision should be clear. The girl now says she regrets her decision. That and 20 cents, my father used to say, will buy her a ride on the subway.

  • Kendra Charmaine, a 17-year-old in California, had a relationship with Ramos on Instagram. Soon he was sending her messages like ‘i wanna kill u.’ She stopped communicating with him. What else should she have done, if anything?

A study that evaluated active shooters between 2000 and 2013 found that people who knew the attackers  observed ominous behavior or rhetoric in 62% of cases. In 57% of the cases, someone noticed the future killer having abnormal interactions with another person, and in 56% of the cases, the future shooter expressed intent to hurt people.

  • Keanna Baxter, 17, a junior at Uvalde High School where Ramos had been a student, said he had sometimes been aggressive or intimidating to those around him. Ramos asked her out on a date once, and when she turned him down he began creating different accounts on Instagram to send her harassing messages such as “I hate you” or “I’m going to hurt you.”

“Yeah, he was aggressive,” she now says. “But no one ever thought he was sinister enough to do something like this.” Well, why not? If school shootings were as common as commentators in the current freakout claim, wouldn’t a kid who sends “I’m going to kill you” messages be worthy of a red flag?

  • Ramos asked his sister to buy him a gun in September and then, in March, told friends in a group message that he was buying one.

Why was he obsessed with acquiring a gun? This question is serious enough for parents to drill into their children, “If anyone tells you they want to get a gun, tell me. Immediately.”

  • In March of this year, someone had picked up on enough clues to send Ramos a message on Instagram asking, “Are you going to shoot up a school or something?”

He answered “no.” Well, all right then! That should have put everyone’s mind at ease!

  • A California woman Ramos met online said she had been afraid when he tagged her in a picture of his guns  for no discernible reason. His online friend in Germany now says Ramos only revealed the specifics of his plans the day of the attack, texting her that he had shot his grandmother and was about to “shoot up a elementary school.”

She still didn’t try to alert authorities.

  • When Ramos posted a picture of two long, black rifles on his Instagram account, a freshman at Uvalde High School sent it to his cousin and asked who would have let the drop-out obtain such weapons. The cousin, who knew Ramos, replied that he was probably planning on shooting someone.

“Thanks, cuz! That’s what I thought!”

  •  One of the shooter’s co-workers at the Uvalde Wendy’s told reporters that the staff took to calling him “school shooter.”

How ironic!

I know I had an unusual upbringing. My father wasn’t afraid of conflict—an understatement—and would always choose to do something when he saw a problem.  I saw him spring into action many times while bystanders were standing around, not willing to get involved. He confronted parents of kids who displayed anti-social behavior on several occasions, and taught me to pay attention and not be caught snoozing when a potential tragedy was brewing. Because of his example, I have spoken up in four situations when my observations told me an alert was mandatory; in three of the four cases, my intervention turned out to be timely. (In the fourth, tragically, it was not.)

Human beings’ natural instinct is inertia, and for most people (not my Dad, but he was special), the natural course is to not get involved and leave intervention to others. Obviously sound judgment is required, and the admonition “mind your own business” echoes through the tunnels of our minds. Yet the fates of our neighbors and fellow citizens is our business.

We all need to train ourselves to be ready to blow the whistle, even if it turns out to be a false alarm.

 

21 thoughts on “One General Ethics Lesson From Uvalde: We All Have A Duty To Be Proactive Citizens [Corrected]

  1. Unfortunately, this is one message that’s likely to get swallowed up in the anti-gun ownership rage. That’s a shame, because many things could have been stopped if only someone had spoken up. The fact is, though, that we get mixed messages from the get-go. “No one likes a snitch.” “Snitches get stiches.” “Tattle-tale, ginger ale, stick your head in the garbage pail.” How many of us got told by parents, “unless someone’s bleeding, or the house is on fire, I don’t want to hear it?” How many of us have come up against “the blue wall of silence,” where police officers won’t blow the whistle on one another and in some cases will actively cover up for one another? How many of us have come up against some ethnic code, like the Italian idea of omerta, against reporting wrongdoing?

    Oh sure, after 9/11, the authorities told everyone, “if you see something, say something,” but that quickly gave way to “mind your own business,” “don’t get involved,” and of course “don’t be a racist,” because if you report someone of color, you are automatically assumed to be a racist. The fact is there is a strong presumption in the US against reporting wrongdoing, and in favor of either zipping it if you’re not directly involved, or handling things yourself if you are. There’s a presumption that you don’t want to get someone into trouble, especially if it’s over something that’s really nothing, and if you do, there’s a chance that the person you get into trouble will be coming back looking to make trouble for YOU, and others will say it’s your fault for opening your mouth, I’ve been there, done that. Easier and less messy to just keep your mouth shut.

    I’m sure that in each of these cases the person who didn’t speak up convinced himself/herself that there was a justifiable reason for keeping silent, whether that Ramos was just a blowhard, to why get involved in something in another country, to this guy’s a crazy creep, and if I open my mouth maybe he WILL actually come after me. Maybe nine times out of ten that IS the case, and the angry guy never gets beyond huffing and puffing, which there’s no law against. Unfortunately, this time he actually went through with his plan, and 21 people paid for these other folks’ silence with their lives.

    About seven weeks ago I’m picking up dinner from one of the local restaurants, and I see this guy whose car has become disabled in the middle of a busy intersection. Everybody’s mad at him, everybody’s honking at him, everybody’s yelling while he’s yelling and gesturing at them to go around him. None of the people coming into or going out of the restaurant does anything, and no one among the restaurant staff does anything. I know if this guy sits here long enough somebody’s not going to be paying attention and is going to slam into him and we’re going to have a real mess, so I pick up the phone and dial 911. Within 2 minutes the local police are there and getting him towed off the street. I don’t understand. The call took one minute and it took 2 minutes for the police to arrive after that. No one else could be bothered? Everyone’s attitude was simply “not my problem.”

    February 2021 I fielded a series of text messages from a friend who was going through a messy divorce, which led me to believe she might harm herself. I could have told myself she was just stressed, or just being overdramatic, or this was not my divorce and I didn’t want to get involved. Finally I decided that she wasn’t going to die on my watch, called the local police, and asked them to do a welfare check. She spent five days in hospital on a psych hold, and she was mad as hell at me, but she lived. Had I ignored this, maybe not so.

    The culture of silence is one thing that’s got to go. Kids have to be taught from the get-go that not only are there certain behaviors you not only don’t engage in yourself, but you don’t tolerate from others.

    .

  2. It’s interesting to note that the Buffalo shooter, Payton Gendron, was reported to authorities in 2021 for threatening to commit a shooting at his high school and was taken into custody for a mental health evaluation (which he must have “passed” since he was able to legally purchase the guns used in Buffalo).

    Social media being the cesspool that it is, I’m afraid that the number of referrals due to threatening language would, if your advice was more widely followed, simply overwhelm the police. In this particular case, if his online acquaintance in Germany had reported his threats (prior to his message that he had already killed his grandmother and was on his way to an elementary school, of course), what would the authorities have done? A mental health evaluation? Could they have confiscated his guns? In reality, given the performance of the Uvalde authorities, I suspect they would have done nothing.

  3. DD. That seems like a rationalization. I don’t know if “what’s the point” is one but it should be.

  4. Being a proactive citizen is absolutely our duty, but this is harder than it seems. I had the opportunity to accompany the middle school and high school choirs for my town this last year, and was able to see both the kids and the administration in action. My experience has shown me that first, comments like these are very common in a school. I can think of one period where a bunch of kids were teasing another by saying her name. That was it, saying her name. She was so distraught that she threatened to harm everyone. This happened every single day for the trimester that she was in 6th grade choir. “I’m going to hurt/kill you” declarations were a minute by minute occurrence. There were plenty of other kids who continued to say stuff like that.

    Another boy in another period (8th grade) would make statements similar to the ones presented here, about having guns, showing off his guns, and what in some minds would have been considered an obsession with guns. Of course, his discussion of where elk are found in one of the general tag districts suggests that he was from a normal Wyoming family who gives kids guns at young ages and trains them on gun safety and how to hunt. And I can think of a great many boys in the middle and high school who are the same.

    Then we have the kids running around telling the teachers that so-and-so is going to shoot us all up. “She’s a total psychopath.” I heard that one only about 40 times an hour. Thing was, which girl do I step up and report? The one that was accused first, the one that said it first, the sixteenth kid who was talking about another?

    So not only do we have a massive amount of “red flags” in a normal everyday classroom, but then there is the administration. I do not know how many other schools are like this, but I am aware that the middle school administration was by far the worst at handling anything. If a kid threatened or caused violence, reporting it to the administration resulted oddly. If the kid’s parents were the “right people” the person who reported the threatened violence was slimed all over the community, with a black mark on their employment record as a trouble maker who won’t let kids be kids. If the kid’s parents were the “wrong people”, the kid was expelled from school and treated like dirt. A false alarm could derail a kid’s education from here on up.

    Then we have the problems of false alarms themselves, which make us hesitate to make alarms on “red flag” behavior that is ubiquitous. If you have an unpopular student who is reported and they planned to do nothing, you turn them into a pariah who is more likely to do something quietly next time. If you turn in a popular student who meant nothing, you risk having more students take that same action, because it gets them out of having to do any classwork for an hour or two. Continuing to react to the unending, “I’m going to hurt people” responses upsets the parents who then start attacking any school district decision (not a bad thing in my book, but when there is one school for most of an entire county, this does cause a huge amount of community-wide problems and distrust). The police get tired of responding to nothing. The students and teachers start to ignore protocol. Overreacting makes things less safe, due to familiarity breeding contempt.

    As a final note, my educator friends think that the best option is allowing teachers to go through gun safety training and letting them concealed carry. Or course, this is Wyoming, a place where no major shootings have occurred and where practically the whole populace is generally armed to the teeth. Perhaps that is why no major shootings have occurred. Or perhaps the low population is all that needs to be mentioned. Or the one shooting that started on the res, and well, given the highly armed nature of pretty much all the students, nothing actually came of it.

    I don’t think things are as easy as you make it seem. Not just because being ethical is hard, but that figuring out the right people to finger has become nearly impossible in the culture of disrespect and violence that pervades the schools today. Before we worry about the duty to report, we need to find real red flags rather than the ones mentioned above, or we need to rebuild our schools from the ground up (my preferred option) so that such behaviors are actually red flags.

    • There shouldn’t be a “culture of disrespect and violence.” If there is we shouldn’t wonder why a few years later these kids are rolling around in the parking lot outside the local bar.

      Who here agrees with the following statement:

      It’s perfectly all right to do whatever you can get away with to anyone as long as you know you can get away with it.

      No, eh? What the heck is that all about, right? 🤪 But I bet back in school if you saw someone you didn’t like in a hurry down the hall and maybe preoccupied your foot would just happen to be sticking out at just the right angle at just the right time to send that person on a full faceplant. 😲 Now that person’s been sent sprawling, you can plausibly claim it was an accident because you weren’t obvious about it, and if they fly at you, they’ll be the one to get in trouble. Score one for you.

      Let’s try another one:

      If someone’s name is even the least bit unusual, it’s perfectly OK to twist it into something embarassing or annoying and call them by that instead. That goes double for feminization of male names that lend themselves to it.

      Not so much, huh? 😕 That’s actually pretty rude, correct? 😠 $10 says that way back when, particularly if you didn’t like someone, Barclay became Broccoli, Fuchs became F—s, Moreno became Moron, and so forth. If Clarence was undermasculine, or just not big enough to insist otherwise, he became Nancy, and if Paul was shy of being a Paul Orndorff I bet Paula was just something you couldn’t resist saying. After all, everyone’s got to learn to take a joke.

      OK, one more:

      It’s bad form to mock the physically disabled, but the mentally disabled are left in peace at the neurotypicals’ sufferance.

      Hard pass, right?😱 WTF?🤬 But I bet when you were a kid you freely used the words “retard” or “retarded” when someone did something objectively or subjectively dumb, and if you did happen to encounter or see mentally handicapped kids, you and your friends had a good laugh about “the short bus,” the “tart cart,” or some other expression like that, maybe you openly called them “dummies” or something a whole lot worse. God forbid someone on the spectrum who looked normal but didn’t have the tools to fit in fell in with you, because you and your friends would be all over him with insults he wouldn’t quite grasp and ways to exploit his gullibility, until you had enough for the day. Hey, the mentally handicapped kids don’t understand the insults, so no harm, no foul, and those on the spectrum just have to learn to fit in.

      Let’s try a few more – If the boss told you “you better watch what you say, because if you say it to the wrong person your face will be plastered all over the place,” would you think it was appropriate?

      No, huh? What the heck is he talking about, right? 😡

      If a coworker or neighbor who disliked you told you that you better not even look at him or he would “kick the s— out of you” would you think that was appropriate?

      No again, eh? What’s his problem, right? 😣

      If a coworker decided to hide some item of yours, you told the boss, the boss told him to cut the nonsense, and he then later physically attacked you for getting the boss involved, would you think that was appropriate?

      I bet that’s a definite no, right? Are you kidding, right? 😮

      Oh it gets better. What if you talked to the police about your threatening neighbor and were told “you just have to ignore him?”

      What? 😠

      How about if after your coworker attacks you, you complain to the boss, and the first words out of the boss’s mouth are, “what the heck did you do to make him so mad?”

      What the f— is going on here, right? 😨

      Welcome to life in middle school and high school. Teachers and administrators need to stop this kind of behavior hard.

      • I actually agree with you Steve-O. These are wrong. I can say this with the certitude of the one who experienced it. I never stuck the foot out, but I was the one who went sprawling down the hallway, had her stuff destroyed, had her weird last name turned into a disease, called a stupid bitch every day, thrown into walls, had stuff routinely stolen, pop/beer poured into her hair, and went home every night crying. You just forgot to mention that 90% of the time, the teachers initiate that. Telling teachers or administrators gets you, the middle/high/college kid punished.

        As for your discussion of neighbors and workplace, well, yeah. That’s adult life. It happens routinely. Neighbors are friends with the cop and requesting help when someone creates a safety hazard of someone abandoning their car blocking your entire driveway so you can’t ever leave to go to the doctor or work is going to make you the pariah of the neighborhood. Bosses tend to cover each other’s backs, even with blatant sexual harassment. If you are a friend to the establishment, you can do or say anything, if you aren’t you can’t. King’s Pass reigns supreme. That is life. Complaining gets you shafted. You just have to cowboy up when things are unfair and accept that life is unfair.

        That being said, teachers and administrators need to make the change, but for an adult to identify and act on red flags, there needs to be a fifteen minute segment in even a choir class that isn’t filled with red flags. Saying we need to report is a couple steps down the line from where we are now. It is a good idea, but way too advanced to implement at this time.

    • Great post. Still, I never said proactive citizenship isn’t hard. Being in a democracy is hard—it’s much easier to just take orders. Stepping up is hard; opposing power abuse is hard. Hell, being ethical is hard.

  5. Right Problem:
    “There was a plethora of ominous signs that this 18-year-old was a virtual ticking time bomb, and that he had gun violence on his mind. Yet nobody with that information did anything.”

    Wrong Solution:
    “The point is that pro-active citizenship could have prevented the tragedy, as it could prevent many tragedies.”

    Time and again authorities and “professionals” have been pre-warned about a mass public shooter’s mental health and other “Red Flags”, yet nothing was done with the information. The shootings still occurred.

    What is the point of “See Something Say Something” if nothing happens? Particularly if an unstable and potential homicidal individual finds out who said something.

    The Washington Post has an excellent article on this problem.
    The many ‘red flags’ in recent mass shootings
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/26/many-red-flags-recent-mass-shootings/
    The article states:

    “In 5 out of 5 of the most deadly school shootings, the killers displayed warning signs of being a potential threat to themselves or others,” the report said. “This stunning fact illustrates the need for a legal tool to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals. While that report focused on school shootings, other mass shootings in recent American history also fit this trend.”

    The WP’s author’s solution is. “This stunning fact illustrates the need for a legal tool to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

    The Problem with red flag laws:
    Red flag laws are the solution championed by progressives to deal with mentally dangerous people. Second Amendment supporters and non-progressive individuals are rightly concerned with define “dangerous individuals”. When one looks at how BLM and Jan. 6th “protesters” are treated by the media and the justice system, that is a very valid concern. The other problem is that to prevent weaponizing a “Red Flag Law”, the due process may very well take too much time.

    Red Flag laws by themselves are not the solution. It seems to me, that the problem is not the gun but the shooter using a gun. If the potential shooter is mentally ill, then treat the illness. F…ing Duh!

    The other problem not being addressed is the lack of accountability by authorities who did not act correctly. The Parkland Florida School shooting is the best example of authorities not doing their job and dead kids resulting. Yet the FBI response seemed to be “Oops, My Bad”. The public and politicians were not screaming to hold any agency accountable for their inaction. Did anyone at the FBI lose their job? Were any congressional hearings conducted?

    To paraphrase a quote from the movie A Few Good Men, progressives and politicians from both parties and the media “don’t want to handle the truth”. Gun control is a useful wedge issue.

    • How is a Post article that promotes “red flag laws” excellent? Such laws are pre-crime slippery slopes. That’s why ethics are necessary beyond laws, and pro-active intervention informally. You don’t know about the school shootings prevented by someone “saying something,” right? I personally may have prevented two suicides by young people by picking up the phone and saying, “Get your kid NOW and take care of her, because she’s spinning out of control based on what I just heard.”

      • Jack,
        I stated, “The Washington Post has an excellent article on this problem”. Your comment left the ‘problem’ part out. The Post article is excellent because it details that the mass shooting problem is a mental health problem. I go on to say Red Flag Laws are a problem and not a solution. I also detail why just saying something has failed miserably in the past.

        You are correct I don’t know about the school shootings prevented by someone “saying something,” Do you? I imagine no one does. I do know of the shootings that haven’t been prevented by saying something. The point of my commentary is simple solutions are not the answer to complex problems. Nor should tragedies be used to promote a gun control agenda.

        • Proactive citizenship is not a “simple solution.” It requires cultural reinforcement. Nor is it the only part of a “solution,’ or a “solution” at all. It is ethical conduct that can mitigate an unsolvable problem: untrustworthy citizens who abuse rights the vast, vast majority of citizens do not.

  6. “You just have to cowboy up when things are unfair and accept that life is unfair.”

    No, that’s when you “cowboy up” and take things into your own hands. It’s not supposed to come to that. That’s when your neighbor who blocks your driveway gets his tires slashed or his tail light broken, when no one’s around to see it, of course. That’s when the guy who hit you in the stomach so hard he doubled you over gets his head smashed so hard against a locker that he falls to the floor with a concussion and a bump on his head the side of an orange. That’s also when the boss who decided to grab your ass gets the company sued and his career destroyed. That’s also when the bullied kid finally snaps and you get a Columbine.

    • Steve-O,

      First I think I am not making myself clear. I’m a poor writer and I apologize for that.

      However, I have to comment on this part of your replay. What you describe is not cowboying up. Acting like that ruins your honor and pride. A good man (or woman for the politically correct among us) knows that honor, pride, and your word are the only things that you really have (at least without going religious, which isn’t really the focus of this blog).

      We should act, as this post has said, but my point is that we are at the wrong time to act or at least to act this way. To act on red flag behavior would be to condemn 20-25 kids per every 30 kid class, most of whom won’t do anything unless pushed, which reporting and punishing them for the standard behavior is likely to do. We need to step back from this and find a better way to keep this from happening. I suggest rebuilding the public school platform from the ground up, but perhaps that is a little too drastic for some and unrealistic, so not a great suggestion, I guess.

      Again, I approve of the idea of proactive citizenship when red flag behavior is displayed. It is just not practical in today’s schools, or frankly even the ones at the time of the Columbine incident without figuring out how to make the teachers and administration fix the pervasive problems that make red flag behavior such a common occurrence among all students.

  7. Hillary Clinton’s idiotic, Marxist, corrosive, wrong “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind reading this post. I always wanted to say, “No Hillary, you’re wrong. It actually takes two competent, adult or adult acting parents to raise a child. The village this kid inhabited wasn’t able to keep this mentally ill kid from going off the rails after his parents flubbed it up entirely. There’s no social program that can function in lieu of competent parents. If you’re going to look to the village, you’re going to get nothing but chaos.

    • Also unworkable in this era of children being private treasures who parents want no one else to even look at.

      • I’m still waiting for the mother to be quoted using the all-time favorite: “They killed my baby!” or “He was just a child!” And then there’s the always reliable “He was such a good boy” and “he was going to go to college.” I’m surprised Ben Crump hasn’t hired a Hispanic associate and started a Hispanic shake-down department in his shop. Where are the photos of the kid as a smiling fourteen year-old?

  8. “A study that evaluated active shooters between 2000 and 2013 found that people who knew the attackers observed ominous behavior or rhetoric in 62% of cases. In 57% of the cases, someone noticed the future killer having abnormal interactions with another person, and in 56% of the cases, the future shooter expressed intent to hurt people.”

    Also- how many times will we discover that these shooters were somehow “on the FBI’s radar” for a long time but nothing was done?

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