Where Is the National Outrage Over Uvalde?
Almost 50 days later, attention is moving on, but officials still haven’t explained how police failed so badly.
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George Floyd’s murder changed how Americans view law enforcement. The Uvalde massacre could have its own impact on policing and guns, and yet we still don’t know why the police response went so wrong.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Around this time two summers ago, Americans were marching in the streets of cities across the country to protest the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Almost two years to the day after Floyd’s death, a gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 students and two teachers. This past weekend, hundreds of family members of victims and their supporters marched in Uvalde. It was a lonelier protest. Already, national attention has started to move on, including to the July 4 massacre in Highland Park, Illinois. (To be frank, I had to check to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any other major mass shootings.)
Floyd’s murder and the Uvalde massacre are two horrors in which police are at the center, though in completely different ways. In Minneapolis, police used excessive force; in Uvalde, everyone seems to agree, they failed to use force as soon as they should have. These are extreme examples of a familiar dyad of overpolicing, which includes pretextual stops (when officers find an excuse to stop someone, in the hopes of uncovering a more serious offense) and brutal enforcement, and underpolicing, in which citizens feel abandoned by law enforcement.
In the Floyd case, junior officers were convicted for failing to intervene as Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck. In Uvalde, officers did not act for nearly 80 minutes as they waited for an order. Experts say criminal charges in Uvalde are unlikely—prosecuting officers for inaction is even harder than prosecuting them for things they did—though civil suits are possible. Pete Arredondo, chief of the school-district police, has stepped down from a city-council seat and is on leave from his police role but has not heeded demands to resign.
Both cases are also unusual in that they have attracted widespread condemnation from other police officers. Yet nearly 50 days have passed since the massacre, and the public still knows vanishingly little about why the police failed so badly in Uvalde. But as we've learned from past incidents, civilians should be skeptical of official accounts, especially early on. The initial police report about Floyd’s death infamously stated that “officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
In this case, who even knows what official account to doubt? The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety has said better leadership from Arredondo could have saved lives, and called the law-enforcement response “an abject failure,” which is the one thing that no one needed an authority to tell us. The mayor has accused DPS of a lack of transparency, an audacious claim given that the city is itself blocking the release of records. Arredondo, meanwhile, denies he was even in charge on the scene. A committee of the state legislature will reportedly release findings of its investigation privately to families within a week to 10 days, an anonymous source told The New York Times. Just this afternoon, the Austin American-Statesman published leaked body-cam and surveillance video showing police officers waiting outside the classroom as the shooting unfolded.
“I want to know what happened. I want to know what was said,” Laura Morales, the aunt of a victim, told Texas Public Radio at this weekend’s march. “I want to know, what was the holdup? Where was the action?”
Families are right to be furious, and the rest of the country should be too. Still, as I’ve written, the police failures are only part of the story. Once the gunman opened fire, any response would have been too late to save everyone. During the march on Sunday, protesters also called for stricter gun laws—beyond the bipartisan deal Congress passed last month, in response to the massacre.
One of the most depressing parts of each mass shooting is the knowledge that no matter how many people say “Never again,” there will be another, probably very soon. Maybe the aftermath of Floyd’s death can offer a faint hope here. Like mass shootings, instances of excessive police force against Black men had been happening for a long time before the video of Chauvin killing Floyd inspired massive protests. Those protests produced notable (though now frustratingly stalled) demands for reform. Perhaps that means a time will come when Americans decide they’ve had enough of mass shootings, too.
- Today’s hearing of the House January 6 committee focused on the Trump administration’s connections to extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, and revealed that Trump had planned in advance to lead a march of supporters to the Capitol on January 6.
- The Kremlin announced that Vladimir Putin will visit Tehran next week to meet with the leaders of Iran and Turkey, with the aim of securing more military and economic support for Russia’s war on Ukraine.
- NASA has released more images from the James Webb Space Telescope.
- Galaxy Brain: Elon Musk is not playing four-dimensional chess, Charlie Warzel argues.
- Humans Being: Jordan Calhoun writes that no show has better captured a toxic workplace than FX’s The Bear.
- Brooklyn, Everywhere: Xochitl Gonzalez believes that Democrats still don’t understand Latino voters.
Can You Cure Mental Illness? Two Centuries of Trying Says No.
By Daphne Merkin
Psychiatry, from its very inception, has been subject to raised eyebrows if not outright ridicule. Even before Freud came along with his batty theories about infantile sexuality and repressed wishes to kill one’s father, the discipline had struggled to define its methods and objectives. More than two centuries after it emerged as a profession devoted to the care—and hoped-for cure—of the mentally ill, psychiatry is still seen by many as half-baked, neither a science nor an art, pulled hither and yon by an indeterminate purview and changing medical trends.
More From The Atlantic
Read. Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and Off the Tracks, by Victor and Jacob Maymudes, is a hybrid memoir-biography that does not rely on quoting Dylan’s work.
Or try another pick from this list of seven books that grapple with what writers leave behind.
Plus: Ada Limón was named the new U.S. poet laureate. Sample one of her poems, and read Nicole Chung’s recent conversation with Limón in I Have Notes.
Watch. If, and only if, you’ve finished The Bear (streaming on Hulu), try something from our list of 20 TV shows for a short attention span.
If you’re on the internet, you’ve probably spent some time today staring at the first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope. If you haven’t, my colleague Alan Taylor has a gallery, and my colleague Marina Koren explains why they’re such a big deal. (Marina’s reporting on space is so good, it even touches me, a notorious space hater.) While you’re taking those in, let me recommend a soundtrack from the great composer and bandleader Sun Ra. Sun Ra’s fanciful stage outfits and insistence that he was an alien from Saturn have sometimes led to him being dismissed as an oddball, but his fusion of classic jazz, the avant-garde, and Afrofuturism have more recently won the acclaim they deserve. And who, today, can deny his decree? Space is the place.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.