On Wednesday, February 14th, a man entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, armed with an AR-15 rifle, and killed 17 people, including teenagers. On February 15th, President Donald Trump tweeted about the attack. In that tweet, it appeared that President Trump blamed the victims of the fatal school shooting for not reporting the shooter’s behaviour to the authorities sooner.
Initially, the president had tweeted “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school,” on the day of the shooting. However, he followed up on his remarks the next day. “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour,” Trump tweeted on February 15th, “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” The reaction to this tweet was that Trump blamed the victims and not the shooter.
It was revealed later in the week that the FBI had received tips regarding the shooter being a possible threat to the school. However, the tip was never forwarded to the Miami field office, and the bureau never followed up on it. In addition, the shooter had been expelled and teachers were warned in an email not to let him enter school grounds with a backpack. Two days later, Trump continued to tweet about the school shooting, this time blaming the FBI for focusing too much on the ongoing Russia probe. He wrote: “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”
Students who survived the shooting had a lot to say about how Trump blamed victims and no one else. Sarah Chadwick, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, sent a reply to Trump that has since gone viral. She wrote “I don’t want your condolences you f***ing [piece] of s***, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.” Chadwick tweeted from an alternate account, @chaddiedabaddie, but has since been using another account, @sarahchad_. In a pinned tweet, she wrote “About my tweet directed to president trump, I apologize for the profanity and harsh comment I made. I hope you know I’m a grieving 16-year-old girl who lost friends, teachers, and peers yesterday. I was and am still angry. I am apologizing for my comment but not for my anger.”
Another student whose response has gone viral is Emma Gonzalez. In a speech given just days after the shooting at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Gonzalez appeared to speak directly to President Trump and other members of Congress. She appeared to be replying to the tweet in which Trump blamed victims of the shooting when she said: “How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was [the shooter’s] fault, the fault of the people who let him buy the guns in the first place, those at the gun shows, the people who encouraged him to buy accessories for his guns to make them fully automatic, the people who didn’t take them away from him when they knew he expressed homicidal tendencies.” Later in her speech, Gonzalez pointed out that President Trump has taken $30 million from the National Rifle Association.
David Hogg, another survivor of the shooting, spoke out as well, urging the President and Congress to “Take action.” In an interview with CNN, Hogg said “Any action at this point instead of just complete stagnancy and blaming the other side of the political aisle would be a step in the right direction.” In the wake of the shooting, several Republican members of Congress have said that this was not an issue of gun control, but rather one concerning mental health. “I think it’s important to know all of [the facts] before you jump to conclusions that there’s some law we could have passed that could have prevented it,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has taken $3.3 million from the NRA during his career. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told reporters on Thursday that the government had not done a good enough job keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental illness. In February 2017, Grassley supported rolling back Obama-era legislation that would have kept people with mental illness from acquiring firearms.
Even though Trump blamed victims for staying silent about the shooter, they have not stayed silent in the days following. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school have planned a March on Washington to occur on March 24th. It will be called “March for our Lives.” David Kasky, another Florida student, told ABC’s Martha Raddatz “This isn’t about the GOP, this isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected, and at this point, you’re either with us, or you’re against us.” Other students already protested on Presidents Day weekend by staging a “lie-in” on the front lawn of the White House. Whitney Bowen and Eleanor Nuechterlein, students at Potomac school, led the protest, telling the New York Daily News: “By doing this, we will make a statement on the atrocities which have been committed due to the lack of gun control, and send a powerful message to our government that they must take action now.” Robert O’Brien, another student at the protest, told the New York Daily News “[school] doesn’t need to be a place like a war zone. You think you don’t have a voice, maybe you’re too young, but you can make a difference.”
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