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Are American classrooms producing mass shooters?

Oscar H. Blayton

Let’s face it. With all the mass shootings in America today, it is difficult to tease out the various motivations that prompt murderers to unleash their automatic weapons on unsuspecting and innocent individuals they do not even know.

This country being awash in guns is certainly a major contributor to the constant carnage. But a theory of “one size fits all” does not apply to these killings. Some shooters suffer from mental illness. Others have a fixation on attacking people because of their sexual orientation or religion. And then there are those who attack people because of their race or ethnicity.

We need to find ways of bringing an end to all types of shootings. But to do so, we need to understand and address the underlying factors that drive the perpetrators to commit their heinous acts. While we must address all forms of hate, I want to speak to one specific piece of this puzzle — race-based slaughter.

First, I want us to recall Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white male living in Eastover, South Carolina, who drove 98 miles to Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston and killed nine African Americans he did not know on June 17, 2015.

Next, I want to bring your attention to the murders that took place Aug. 3, 2019, when 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas, drove more than 600 miles to kill 23 Latinx strangers at an El Paso Walmart.

Finally, on May 14, 2022, Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white kid drove more than 200 miles from his home in Conklin, New York, and killed 10 random African American shoppers in a Buffalo supermarket.

Roof, Crusius and Gendron were all white males, 21-years-old or younger at the time they committed their massacres and had very little time to be influenced by anything other than their socialization by their family and their educational experiences.

Public policy cannot invade the family dinner table and dictate what parents teach their children, but responsible citizens must wonder what type of education these young men received in the schools they attended. Is it legitimate to ask if some of the ideas and beliefs they acquired in high school led these mass shooters to be susceptible to targeting Black and Latinx victims based solely on their race or ethnicity?

As rabid white supremacists howl about the damage done to their children by being exposed to the truth about American history, is it possible that in many classrooms across America, seeds of bigotry and hate are being planted in the minds of some white children so that they grow to become shooters like Dylann Roof, Patrick Crusius and Payton Gendron?

It was not that long ago when schools in southern states were segregated by law. Today, schools in every sector of the country are racially imbalanced because of historical housing patterns created by a string of racist policies. So, is it unreasonable to take a closer look at our educational system to see what practices in our classrooms might possibly have a hand in creating mass murderers driven by racial hatred?

Racial hatred exists in the United States. We witness it every day and feel its effects throughout our entire lives. To witness it and not investigate its source is as irresponsible as denying that such hatred exists. What’s worse than either of these are the multiple attempts across America to lock away the history of this hatred so it cannot be addressed. It may be the case that none of our educational institutions are breeding grounds of racial bigotry, but we certainly have seen instances where racism takes a front seat in the decision-making of most American institutions, including our schools.

America is approaching a disaster of epic proportions. Refusing to acknowledge this crisis and continuing to turn away our eyes will surely bring us more misery and suffering. Mass shootings of all types will continue to plague this country until we face the problem head on and do something about it. And racially motivated mass shootings will continue as an American tradition until we root out all sources of this bigotry and hatred.

Yes, we must push hard for sensible gun laws. But we also must ensure that our educational institutions are not stoking the embers of racial and ethnic intolerance.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.