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  • Reverend James Squire

Ethical/Behavioral Reflection on the Recent Uvalde report

Nearly 400 federal, state, and local officers were at the scene of the school shooting, and none took charge. The gunman who took 21 lives was finally confronted and killed. The report described an hour of chaos and poor decision-making. Watching the video of the shooting, you could hear numerous people saying loudly “we got to go in.” The video pictures officers hunkered down protecting themselves while shots are being fired. They didn’t go in!

I think all of the following occurred that stopped the officers from doing their duty. What stopped them? Recently, I wrote about Dan Ariely’s research, a behavioral psychology professor at Duke, who indicated that people need a go to phrase or experience to do their duty. If they had watched the video the Red Bandana which is a story about courage that I used in my ethics class, some may have been inspired to do their duty and go in. The video reflects the truth that courage becomes courage when it is acted on in a repeated fashion. The hero in the story was a fire fighter in his community, an ice hockey player at his high school, and played lacrosse at Boston College. He knew teamwork. I heard a comment that rang true that schools training the various groups of officers will be shown the Uvalde video as an example of what not to do. That too would help them know the risk and possible sacrifices.

One of the videos that I watched depicted a leader who was teaching beginners about the job that they wanted to do. But he warned them if you are not prepared to lay down your life for someone in need, you ought to find another vocation. No judgement. Just a fact. They all signed on to that contract.

But there is a psychological reason why some of the group at the Uvalde School Shooting were frozen in fear. Some people like the product. In their case it may be carrying a rifle and others may have wanted to be in a “video game live experience.” They forgot somewhere along the way that part of the process about possibly sacrificing your life for someone else.

A good many people are also pointing to the whole event as a classic leadership failure. The groups looked and were leaderless even though they were taught to go in first and deal with the shooter. They had no concept of “next man up.” Chaos reigned.

There is an interesting study as part of Holocaust Workshops that I have attended based on how people give in to somebody or don’t give in. We would move to a classroom to begin the class and then required to leave for another room, and then another room, and then another room. Finally, someone, but not all would proclaim, “This is crazy! We are not moving anymore.” It showed the power and responsibility of leadership and the nature of authority.

One of the case studies that I teach in ethics class is the murder of Kitty Genovese, a 28 years old bartender who was raped and stabbed outside the apartment building where she lived in New York City. This occurred on March 13, 1964. The New York Times published an article erroneously claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, and none of them called the police or came to her aid. This tragic incident was known by psychologists as the “bystander effect.” The Times later issued an apology and called its own reporting flawed. But the “bystander effect” caught on as an explanation of why groups of people don’t act in a responsible way. We all know the attitude that I don’t need to do something because someone else will do it, but someone else never does. This phenomenon gives a clear picture of another factor in the failure to act in Uvalde.

I think that all of the above was going on at the same time with different officers in Uvalde. The result was an epic tragedy. We need more in our world right now in this moment what you will view below shown to every ethics class. (The first version I used was denied copyright by Disney).To them it made a real difference to see courage in action.

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