Why Uvalde?

Note: the following was written by the founder of The Vigilants, Daniel O'Connor, and his opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of each of the group's members.

I continue to harbor great respect for police officers in general. Uvalde did not and does not change the fact that their jobs are incredibly demanding, and they deserve much credit and honor simply for showing up. The vast, vast majority of the time, police display courage and heroism in the situations that call for these virtues. One of the reasons Uvalde is so noteworthy is precisely because it does not reflect how police operate elsewhere -- wherein a mass shooter (or would be mass shooter) is immediately engaged, without retreat, by whatever police officers first show up. Moreover, I suspect it is largely the lamentable anti-police sentiment in the U.S. of the last several years (especially the last two years) that has put police departments between a rock and a hard place: driving some of the best officers out of the force, and impelling the creation of policies and procedures that only (along with undue federal oversight) prevent police from adequately doing their jobs. Police officers in general, therefore, continue to deserve our respect and admiration. 99% of the time we should obey their directives. And they have a right to our encouragement, appreciation, and praise; all of which we should be sure to give them frequently.

All of that said, however, absolutely nothing changes the fact that the Uvalde police department -- above all the chief who gave the orders, but also the individual police officers present at Robb Elementary on May 24th -- operated in a way worthy of the most severe denunciation.

This was not the case of an individual officer's nerves giving out under the enormous weight of an extremely dangerous situation -- it was a large chunk of the entire department utterly rejecting its fundamental duty, for an entire hour, and at the command of superiors, while child after child after child was brutally murdered.

The chief who gave the orders to refuse to engage the shooter was a highly experienced 30 year veteran, and there was not a single indication that this was a hostage situation that required negotiation. I can only conclude that his decisions -- drawn out, as they were, over such a long period of time, and thus resulting from prolonged reflection -- indicate the presence of a malignant cancer within the institution of policing. A cancer whose symptoms include the turning of some men in the police force (particularly higher ups) into people who behave like robots who cannot exercise discernment, do not have common sense, and lack grace and virtue -- robots who can only blindly apply an algorithm; categorizing situations in one of a few neat little boxes and then unquestioningly applying the criteria that the rule book says those boxes deserve. Moreover, while some have restricted their criticism to the chief who gave the orders not to engage, I cannot exclude the other officers present from rebuke. It should be psychologically impossible for a police officer with a conscience to stand mere yards away, listening to child, after child, after child being brutally murdered, and nevertheless continue obeying his superior's orders to do nothing… for over an hour. Evidently, it was quite possible, however, for many officers in the Uvalde police department. This blind obedience to a manifestly evil order is yet another symptom of the institutional cancer I am here describing.

Obedience is very important, and generally -- especially in law enforcement, military, etc.-- a superior's orders should be obeyed. But they should not always be. We all know this. We all know that the “Nuremberg Defense” fails. When a superior’s orders flatly contradict what is clearly God's Will, they must be disobeyed. But today we are suffering from a crisis of genuine obedience; one which replaces Divine obedience with human obedience, and allows the latter to overturn the former, instead of vice versa.

***

This is part of why I started The Vigilants. I suspect that this inhuman mindset is, at least, not uncommon among those who give orders in our nation's institutions that are dedicated to our safety, and I will not wait for it to be fixed.

I write these words 5 days after the massacre at Uvalde. Each day since then has only seen the revelation of more and more utterly damning details describing how the Uvalde police department operated. Children -- in the very room where the shooting was taking place -- repeatedly calling 911, and whispering to the operator about how many were being killed with each passing minute. Heavily armed officers standing outside that very classroom, refusing to go in because "they didn't have a key." Shots ringing out time and time again over the course of an hour, failing to compel the officers present to disobey unjust orders, and go in and save who they could.

There is no need for me to write more about the details; we have already seen far more than enough information to remain safe in the conclusion that the officers' and chief's reaction at Uvalde was heinously immoral. (For those interested, however, I have below included excerpt's from David French's analysis of the situation as well as a timeline of events.)

And what compounds the evil is that we still (as of May 29th) have not seen genuine apologies from the department. Three days after the massacre, one official in the department acknowledged that "in hindsight" failing to go in was the "wrong decision." The implication of his words -- i.e., that merely looking back was this the wrong decision -- is utterly false, thus these seemingly apologetic words, too, deserve only our condemnation, and only further illuminate the rot in our institutions. It would have been immediately obvious to anyone with a conscience that failing to go in immediately was not merely wrong, but an entirely evil dereliction of duty.

If real apologies are forthcoming -- and I pray they are, and I anticipate they are -- none of them will change the past. While we should all stand ready to forgive, we should not forget the lesson we learned from Uvalde on May 24th, 2022. And that lesson must compel us to act.

The facts are almost too painful to recount. According to the latest timelines, at 11:33 a.m. on Tuesday, May 24, the Uvalde mass shooter (I’ve adopted a practice of refusing to name spree killers) entered the school and began shooting into classroom 111 or 112. Two minutes later, at 11:35 a.m., three Uvalde officers arrived at the closed classroom door. Two were lightly wounded by gunfire from the shooter. Four more officers arrived.

Let’s pause right here. According to Uvalde police training documents obtained by Mike Baker and Dana Goldstein at the New York Times, this moment should have led to an immediate, sustained, and sacrificial engagement with the shooter. Police, including Uvalde police, are taught to engage a police shooter and not to stop, even if it means taking casualties. Here are some key quotes:

First responders to the active shooter scene will usually be required to place themselves in harm’s way and display uncommon acts of courage to save the innocent.

More:

As first responders we must recognize that innocent life must be defended. A first responder unwilling to place the lives of the innocent above their own safety should consider another career field.

When a man or woman puts on a uniform and straps on a gun—whether they’re a police officer or a soldier—they should be making a profound declaration. They’re willing to die to protect their community and their nation. They don’t want to die, of course. But they’re willing to pay the “last full measure of devotion” if that moment arrives.

...

And so, at 11:35 a.m. the seven officers present had but one choice—fight to the death to protect and save as many children as they could. They were to emerge from that school with their shield or on it. There was no other moral choice.

But they waited. And waited. And waited. Two different girls called 911, begging for help. Their classmates were dead and dying all around them. They were in mortal danger. The first call came at 12:03. That same girl called back at 12:10, at 12:13, and 12:16. A different girl called at 12:19. The final call came at 12:36.

At this same time, families were rushing to the school. Police blocked them from trying to reach their children. The result was ultimate anguish. The videos are hard to watch.

At 12:50 p.m. the police finally opened the door with a key, charged into the room, and killed the shooter. That was one hour and 15 minutes after the first police contact in the school. This timeline from the Dallas Morning News tells the story with devastating simplicity:

Police initially attempted to explain this delay by saying they believed “there were no kids at risk,” but they now acknowledge they made the “wrong decision.”

This horrific police failure occurred four years after a similar police failure in Parkland, Florida. Sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson notoriously stayed outside as a killer rampaged through the halls and classrooms of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but “seven other sheriff’s deputies who raced to the school and heard gunshots also stayed outside the building.”

...

The following timeline of events is from Wikipedia. If this is true (and there is nothing to indicate it isn't), then there is not only absolutely no conceivable justification for the officials' response, it is, much more, a description of an exceedingly dark, evil, and corrupt day in our nation's history; not only on the part of the shooter, but on the part of those supposedly protecting us.

The timeline In summary: A group of armed police officers spent an hour and fifteen minutes mere yards away from children being massacred by a lone teenage gunman, while they did nothing to stop it.