Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Guest Essay: It doesn't have to remain this way

A “Spartan Strong” sign hangs outside of the Union on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 - the first day of classes back for Michigan State after the shooting in the university’s north campus seven days earlier.
A “Spartan Strong” sign hangs outside of the Union on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 - the first day of classes back for Michigan State after the shooting in the university’s north campus seven days earlier.

Guest essay by Marshall Lee Weimer, class of 2021

Although I graduated over a year ago, I am still signed up for the MSU Police alerts. Most of the time, they are just pesky notifications to be ignored. On Feb. 13, another pesky notification came up from them. The only words I read were “Run, Hide, Fight.” I thought it was funny to say that, since I assumed it was just another fool with a gun popping rounds off near El Azteca like previously. Sadly, I was very wrong. I stayed up all night listening to the police scanner and made sure my brother was safe at his apartment. I had two classes at Berkey while I was a student, and spent countless hours organizing my environmental club and leading meetings in the Union. Tweak the calendar date and Spartan Sierra Club would have been on the top floor of the Union. Former club leaders I spoke with weren’t sure what we would’ve done exactly, but we would’ve defended that club with our lives.

I took the next day off of work since all I could think about was the shooting. To get my mind off things, I decided to go on a bike ride. The unusually warm February weather made me pensive over tragedies yet to come. Many alumni haven’t been to my place in Brooklyn, but if you walk by it, you can see me flying my Spartan flag out my third floor window. I have taken that flag with me on many MSU-related trips. It has been to Nordhouse Dunes in Michigan, Druid Arch in Utah, Grinnell Glacier in Montana, even the Great Wall of China.

I hitched it to my backpack and biked 5th Ave to Prospect Park, so everyone could see it proudly flapping behind me. I found solace in the park, the trees, and the conversations with friends that day. Later, on my way home, I was approached really close by a black minivan, who I thought was gonna hit me. Before I could turn to yell at them, a father and son rolled the window down and chanted “MSU! MSU! MSU!” That made my whole day. I’ll be honest, with my flag on my backpack, I felt like I was wearing a cape, giving myself the impression I was some Spartan superhero.

Speaking of heroic.

Say whatever you will about the “heroic” response of law enforcement doing their literal jobs, I won’t argue that with you. They fail at most of their responsibilities, but they are able to respond to mass murder quickly. But that is precisely the problem. They respond, they do not prevent. Cops cannot prevent crime, they can only respond to it. Police only apprehend or shoot the shooter in less than a third of all mass shootings. Most of the time, the shooter either leaves, kills themself or an unarmed bystander stops them.

Additionally, cops are often aware of the shooter beforehand but do little to nothing to limit their access to firearms. Even when they can prevent crime, they fail. Oxford was the same way, they knew about the shooter being violent and dangerous to others, yet the authorities did not prevent tragedy either. Why are cities spending a third or even more of their public revenue on agencies that aren’t solving our social ills? Is that fiscally responsible? Is that even safe for us?

What prevents gun crime and gun deaths? One is fewer guns, obviously. But another is funding non-violent solutions to mass shootings. Police are a violent solution; you cannot cure social ills with violence. Social security and public services provide actual security and freedom from poverty and worry, which prevents people from using violence to settle angry grievances. Lack of healthcare, lack of stable low-cost housing, lack of community and lack of public space to create community. All factors which perpetuate diseases and deaths of despair. Add one gun and some spares for every citizen, well you’re just asking for more broken bodies and damaged lives.

The police responded, but they still failed. They knew the shooter was a threat, he was on their radar. They had convicted him on gun charges in 2019, but only gave him a misdemeanor, so he kept his gun rights. They had an opportunity to prevent him from ending his life somewhere along the side of Lake Lansing, but they didn’t. The police failed him as much as they failed to keep safe the eight students killed and injured that night. This will continue to be the case until we reorient our budgets and priorities to target the root causes of violence.

There is one image that stuck with me. I saw footage of medics and cops pulling a victim out of the front doors of the Union facing Grand River. They laid this person down right next to the crosswalk to the right of the accessibility incline. I later saw that same person covered in a white sheet, indicating life had left them. I had crossed that exact crosswalk so many times before, rode past it on my bike, thinking little to nothing of the significance of it. Now I’ll be forever haunted walking by that exact spot, unable to unsee a lifeless body lying there.

Change won't happen unless you do something. Talk to your family and friends. Bombard the phone lines of your legislators. Rally and release your frustration. Discuss and convince those who are willing to listen, ignore and move on from those who aren’t. If you hold power already, do something meaningful that isn’t a bigger police budget. If you don’t hold power, organize your friends, coworkers, and neighbors and build power.

You deserve safety, community, and happiness. History must remember your action, not your inaction. This tragedy is not incomprehensible, it is American. But it doesn't have to remain that way.

I do not want your thoughts and prayers. Two hands at work are worth more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

From my Spartan heart with love,

Marshall

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