This day, I’m thinking about Kendrick Castillo. And about Riley Howell. And about gun violence.
Kendrick Castillo was the high school senior, three days from graduating, who lunged at a fellow student who came into his classroom with a gun in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, this past Wednesday. He was shot to death. Eight other students were wounded by the two gunmen, one of whom was detained by a school security guard. Two other seniors tackled Castillo’s killer, and the other people in the classroom credit Castillo with saving their lives.
Riley Howell and another young man tackled another gunman at UNC-Charlotte on April 30. Again, it’s believed that their actions stopped the shooter from murdering more people, potentially many more people. Howell was shot three times, and died of his wounds.
We call them heroes.
We call them martyrs.
We grieve for them, we remember them, we hold military funerals and vigils for them.
And then we make more of them.
I had a brief discussion — not a bad one, though I was a bit rude and I made the other person upset with me — on Facebook about Kendrick Castillo and whether or not he was a hero. I said he was a tragedy, and I was told that his situation was certainly a tragedy, but that calling him anything other than a hero dishonored him and his leadership and his legacy. And I struggled with how I wanted to respond to that. At first I said that I understood the other person’s point, and I agreed with it, for the most part. But really, I’m not sure that I do. I don’t mean to rehash the argument without giving the other person a chance to rebut my points, so I don’t want to get too far into this specific topic, but — I don’t think that my consent and participation are necessary for someone to be honored. I’ve disagreed often with those we choose to view as heroes, as leaders, as those worthy of honor; I don’t think my opinion has much of an impact on their status or their reputation or their legacy. Especially not something I say in a Facebook comment, or even on this blog. I will say that I would not state my opinion directly to the person or their loved ones, I wouldn’t go to John McCain’s funeral and call him an asshole even though I wrote a multi-page essay to that effect during the 2008 presidential race. But I do also think that if I lost someone I loved, if my wife sacrificed her life to save her students from a school shooter, it would not make me feel better if people told me she was a hero. So if I ever spoke to Kendrick Castillo’s family, I think the first and last thing I would say is, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
But none of that is the point I wanted to make here; just the impetus that has me writing about this terrible topic, again. During that same discussion, I wanted to say that I would rather use my grief for the loss of Kendrick Castillo, and for Riley Howell, to try to ensure that this never happened again, that nobody else would ever have to make the choice that they made.
But I couldn’t say that. First because I don’t know that I am grieving. I’ve grieved for deaths before, and this feels nothing like that. I will say that, inasmuch as you can grieve for someone you’ve never met, I do feel genuinely sad and sorry about these deaths, and I have been thinking about them all day; so if that’s grieving, then I am. If it’s not grieving, then I’m doing whatever this is, and maybe that honors their lives and their loss.
More to the point, though, I don’t think I’m going to do anything to prevent this from happening again. I want to, I genuinely do; but I’m not sure what. I can post on this blog, or elsewhere on the internet, and maybe my opinion can sway some others — but first I have to know how to sway them (you) in order to make a difference, to move us closer to this goal we all share of never again having to hear of a school shooting. I usually think that’s the most powerful impact I can have on issues; because I have this small platform, and I can use it. Though as I said above, I’m not sure how much this blog, my words, these posts, really matter. Probably not much. I could run for office, but I wouldn’t win nor want the job; I could work for a campaign — and I might — but I’d have to be sure that the campaign I was working for was the right one, the one that would help make this happen. Of course I can vote, and will — but again, I have to know that I’m voting for the right person. And when it comes right down to it, if the options are between someone who doesn’t share my opinions about preventing gun violence, and, say, Donald Trump — well, I’m not fucking voting for Trump.
I suppose I could also carry a gun, and stand guard at a school building. But I don’t think that is the right answer.
So the first thing that I need to do, to actually accomplish, is to decide what I think is the right thing to do. And then look for opportunities to pursue that right thing.
I’m saying this because I want to help move other people to do the same. My opinions may not sway anyone, but I do hope that when I say things that make sense, that aren’t simply my opinions, then people will listen: and this makes sense. We need to figure this out. We should all decide what we think is the best thing to do. We should also be open-minded and willing to listen, and honestly think, about what other people say is the best thing to do. We need to do this thinking because if nothing else, the 20 years between Columbine and Highlands Ranch, and the incessant stream of similar tragedies that have paraded by us over those two decades, should show us that we don’t know what to do. Because we’ve done nothing. Nothing other than drill students in how to deal with school shooters: and that has led directly to this point, these two dead men, these — heroes. We made them. We taught them what to do, we encouraged them, we failed to do anything else to prevent these situations where they chose to sacrifice themselves for others. If they are martyrs, then we are not the inheritors of their gift, the beneficiaries of their sacrifice: we’re the ones who killed them. We’re the Romans, with the cross and the nails. We’re the Inquisition, with the stake and the fire. We’re Jack and the hunters, chanting “KILL THE PIG! KILL THE PIG!” while Simon comes down from the cave.
At best we’re the ones watching it happen. At best.
I actually intended this post to be about what I think we should do to stop this. But it hasn’t gone that way, and I don’t want to get into it now. And tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I don’t want to talk about ending gun violence on Mother’s Day. So I think I will leave this here, for now, and come back to it next week — probably Monday.
I will end with this last remark. I do not think honoring dead men like Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell as heroes does one single thing to reduce the tragedy of their loss. In a perverse way, if they are heroes, then that makes their loss worse, because heroes are valuable people, people who improve the lives of others, and they shouldn’t have to die to do that: they don’t have to die to do that. If they die doing it, then that is the end of their heroism, and it is a loss, it is a terrible loss in addition to the unforgivable loss of their lives. I think they probably were heroes, because I think that fighting to stop or prevent harm to others is a good thing, one of the best things, and so people who try to do it are good; if they try to stop harm this horrific, then they are great. I can call them heroes for that.
But still, the only thing I can say is: I am so sorry for your loss.