A troublingly violent atmosphere

Monday was an awful day, but it wasn’t the first time violence touched Red Lake.

As reports of another school shooting came out of Red Lake, Minn., we learned that seven students are dead (including the shooter, who took his own life); one security guard and one teacher are also dead in addition to a reportedly seven others students injured. The shooter also killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion before traveling to the school.

The Red Lake Police Department forwarded all media inquiries to the community safety department, who would not answer any questions for nearly 24 hours, until a press conference was held at 2 p.m. Tuesday. You’d think this was the first time Red Lake had seen loss of life in recent memory.

But Red Lake is not unaccustomed to violence in the community. It has previously had to bring the FBI in to investigate shootings both at the police station and the homes of police officers. On Friday, a Red Lake area 17-year-old girl was charged with attempted homicide and kidnapping of a classmate after a night of intoxication in November. Substance abuse is a predominant problem in Red Lake and is seeing more and more involvement by younger teens and children.

Monday’s incident should also call into question the response of police after previous issues had been brought forward about the ability of Red Lake police to handle any criminal activity.

Don Cook, a public defender and former court administrator in Red Lake had been quoted in the Red Lake Net News as stating, “The tribe’s Public Safety Commission is hiring untrained, uncertified officers who are carrying guns on the streets and holding guns to the heads of kids.” 

I have asked the public safety office about this statement and it contends Cook is lying. When I asked the woman I spoke with for her name she would not release it. Red Lake, like many reservations in Minnesota, has been a breeding ground for gang activity and gang violence.

In such an atmosphere violence is only going to perpetuate itself. It will be more accepted by the community as a daily part of life and the children learn that it is OK to act in such aggressive manners.

Without the full investigation being handled by the FBI, answers might never be found to the cause and contributing factors of Monday’s tragic events. Red Lake is much like other reservations throughout Canada and the United States in the fact that substance abuse recovery and prevention strategies need to be put into place and continually funded.

It is a sad reality that in all of the cases of school murders, not one has been found in my research to be unpreventable, had the indicators been picked up and prevention strategies been implemented.

Unfortunately, not enough education is being done before school massacres and acts of mass violence. Law enforcement, school staff, politicians, youth and parents need to take steps to learn more about youth violence prevention and intervention.

When this is done we will see results similar to what happened recently in New Brunswick, Canada, where students overheard a plan and reported it. School authorities and law enforcement moved quickly and a school massacre was avoided.

The reality of the whole youth violence issue is that I predict that in the next several months we will see two more school shootings: one in Canada and one in the United States. So when you are trying to convince yourself that it could not happen in your community, remember to hug your children and tell them you love them every day, because you never know when it will be your last chance.

James Miller is the director of End Youth Violence, located in British Columbia. Please send comments to [email protected]