What Mass Shootings Have Done to Our Minds

Frequency of violent acts has changed the way we think


I’m not exactly sure when it happened. It was sometime last summer.

I was in the grocery store — in the pasta aisle — and while attempting to locate a jar of Prego marinara sauce on the shelf among an army of traditional sauce, my thoughts took a drastically different direction from my grocery list.

I looked in one direction, toward the front of the store, and then the other, and without any context, thought this: What if an active shooter was in here? What would I do? Where would I go?

I had absolutely no rationale to think that at the moment. There was no immediate danger, nor any sign of it. It’s hardly the first time I had such a thought — and I know I’m not alone — but it was the first time I really grasped the seriousness of it, and what it really meant.

The 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School occurred four days before my 6th birthday. I distinctively remember the now infamous TV images of students fleeing from the school in terror and thorough searches of my backpack at the entrance of my own school for days afterward. I was much too young at the time to comprehend the gravity of the situation, but the vision of those moments runs strong in my mind.

Nearly 20 years later, I’m an adult working in a newsroom. At The Post-Star, I heard and read about the violent acts of our time right as they happened — events that no longer put Columbine in its unique place in history. My third day at this job was the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. My last week at this job was the most recent workplace shooting in Florida.

And several times at this job, those thoughts I had in the grocery store returned — not just because of the job I’m in, but because of the job I’m in.

Just three months prior to my hiring, I visited the site of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, the French newspaper where assailants killed 12 of its office staff. It was an incredibly eerie experience.

I have a copy of a Charlie Hebdo edition at home.

Because of the recent extreme hostility toward the press we have seen, and after reading so many inflammatory comments about my newspaper on our website, more than once I found myself at my desk wondering which exit I would run to should a gunman find their way through the door.

That door’s closer, but it would leave me more vulnerable, I thought. That one’s got more chances for cover, but it’d might as well be a mile away.

I have to admit I got nervous every time a customer at the reception desk raised their voice or appeared overly agitated.

It’s incredible. It’s frightening. Yes, 18 years after Columbine, the world is much different. One year after Pulse Night Club in Orlando, things have changed. Mass shootings have become something we expect. They have changed the way security at closed locations is handled. They have changed training scenarios for individuals from police officers to teachers.

But they have also changed us. And not just politically.  

They have become a staple in the back of our minds. They can infect our subconscious when we find ourselves at a school, movie theater, mall, church, mosque, concert or club — or even when we’re in the middle of buying marinara sauce.

It’s no longer just those who were actually a part of these terrifying moments, like Kevin Sterne, who after being injured in Virginia Tech gets uneasy at sudden loud noises, gets anxious in large crowds and sits with his back to the wall at restaurants so he can see the entrances and exits.

It’s you and me. It’s all of us, whether we really notice it or not.

When I think about it, I can’t help but think of the “duck and cover” generation — those who grew up being regularly drilled to get under desks or get to bunkers in the event of a nuclear holocaust during the height of the Cold War.

It became part of the culture.

This is like a 21st century version of that, if you will.

But just like the threat of a nuclear strike didn’t stop people from living their daily lives for 50 years, the threat of the next shooting doesn’t stop us either.

We still go to schools, movie theaters and malls. We still go to concerts and clubs. But the cultural impact of mass shootings has damaged our minds, and it’s because the frequency of these incidents has erased the “it can’t happen here” argument we try to tell ourselves.

I’m sure there are people in Orlando, Newtown and Charleston who probably thought that.

And that’s why I can’t brush off thoughts of the same carnage happening while I’m looking for sauce in a small grocery store in upstate New York, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

I’m not sure how long this will go on. I don’t know how long it will be before the places we associate with routine or recreation are no longer places of screams and flying bullets.

I don’t know when our minds will recover.

But I do know, sadly, that it won’t be for quite some time.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Should Targeting Police Be a Hate Crime?

New York legislation has good intentions,
but would have bad consequences


When I was young, I hardly ever played video games.

I still don’t.

One of the few I did occasionally play with friends in which I even remember the title to were those in the infamous Grand Theft Auto series.

One of the distinctive features of that game is the penalty for shooting at and killing police officers. On the “star scale” of being hunted by law enforcement after a criminal act, causing the death of an officer increases the amount of stars a player gets significantly.

There’s a reason for that.

Even at a young age, something stirs in our self consciousness about the immorality of harming those whose daily profession is to uphold the law.

But last year, more than 60 police officers in the United States were killed in the line of duty, the most since 2011.

That is no video game.

And that is why the New York state Senate recently passed a bill that would label the assault of a police officer, EMT, or other first responder akin to a hate crime. The Community Heroes Protection Act was introduced by Sen. Fred Ashkar of Binghamton, a former Broome County undersheriff, and passed 56-6 with broad support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

The measure is obviously in response to the recent cold blooded killings of law enforcement we’ve seen in the news in recent years, most notably the five killed in last year’s attack in Dallas and New York’s own Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot point-blank in the head while they sat in their patrol car in 2014.

Up front, the bill should be applauded. The attacks I mentioned above, and others like it, were committed not because any of those police officers were remotely attached to the controversial police killings of black individuals we hear so much about, but because they were merely police officers.

They were targets simply because of their chosen line of profession.
Those are acts that simply cannot be justified. And the vast majority of law enforcement who are faithful in their positions need our protection as they have become new bulls’s eyes for savage assailants.

Any attempt to label the Senate’s bill as anything but an effort to condemn killings of police is grotesque. David Andreatta, a columnist at The Rochester Democrat and Chroniclecalled the bill “a ploy to pander to political constituencies.”

I can’t speak for them, but I hardly doubt the families of those killed because they carried a badge, or families of anyone who risks their life every day to maintain stability in their community, could see this bill as simply political pandering.

While the legislation has good intentions that I feel most people can support, we must also be careful about just what is being proposed.

A hate crime is currently defined by offenses motivated by bias based on race, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation. The Community Heroes Protection Act would add something to that list that comes out of left field — occupation.

And while in the context of police officers and first responders that may sound reasonable, we put ourselves in serious danger of eroding the basis of what exactly a hate crime is and harming the very people it was created to protect — minority groups.

Should this bill become law — and similar legislation has passed in other states — it could potentially lead to more occupational groups requesting similar protection, essentially equating someone who’s born Jewish or disabled to someone who chose a career field that is associated with occasional danger. And that’s not something we should be doing.

It’s also a slap in the face to police reform groups who feel the hate crime system hasn’t been properly enforced in many of the cases we’ve seen of deadly confrontations between officers and young black men. Their concern with this legislation is absolutely justified.

Plus, there are already New York laws that enact specific penalties for criminal offenses against police officers, firefighters and paramedics. And as the personal-finance website WalletHub recently found in its in-depth analysis of 2017’s Best & Worst States to Be a Police Officer, New York is actually the third safest state in the country to be an officer.

Protecting law enforcement and holding them accountable are two very distinct and legitimate issues. No one wants to be treated unfairly or physically harmed just because of the color of their skin or uniform. No police officer wants to be part of tomorrow’s headlines anymore than a black person wants to be part of a deadly statistic.

There are ways to help ensure that neither becomes the case. But I’m not sure if the Community Heroes Protection Act is one of them.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Cuomo Is No Cheerleader For Democrats

Governor should help his own party in the Legislature before Congress


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has continuously dismissed any ambitions to run for president in 2020. But since Donald Trump’s election last fall, the Democratic governor has been steadily wading further into national politics.

Last week, he made a big splash.

Appearing with none other than U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Manhattan, he launched an ambitious campaign to replace New York’s eight Republican congressmen with Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

Cuomo said New York’s Republican delegation doesn’t represent the state’s interests and are “political pawns of the ultra-conservative puppet masters in Washington.”

Now, if Cuomo is seriously eyeing the White House, providing a path for a Democratic coup of the House of Representatives in a year and a half would certainly create whispers amid Democratic statesmen and donors about his potential. 

And that path runs through New York. Realistically, there are at least six House seats in the state that are definitely in play in 2018, which is about a quarter of the amount Democrats need to take back the majority.

But no one — either now or after the election regardless of the result — should make the mistake of labeling Cuomo a noble cheerleader for Democrats. Indeed, Republican House seats in New York have swelled from just two out of 29 in 2009 to eight out of 27 now, a time period that covers Cuomo’s entire tenure as governor and then some.

But Cuomo is being criticized — and rightfully so — about his sudden calling to help unify Democratic control at the federal level when he hasn’t been too energetic or successful with it at home.

In his six years as governor, he hasn’t exactly been known to stump for or endorse a lot of Democratic candidates for the Legislature. And even if he does, it hardly guarentees any security. During his 2014 re-election bid, he spent some money on down-ballot contenders and endorsed a few right at the end, but all those he endorsed lost.

In 2016, he did the same thing. A month before the election, he stumped for a few state Senate candidates. The Assembly is in firm Democratic hands and is unlikely to give that up anytime in the near future. But he hasn’t been able to gain a majority in the Senate.

And based on his lackluster efforts, it’s almost like he doesn’t want a unified Democratic government.

Because he doesn’t. He even said so. Just recently he told reporters “we’ve had a unified Democratic government in Albany. It’s not a hypothetical. We’ve had it. It wasn’t extraordinarily successful.”

If it sounds like he’s advocating for a divided government, he is. The main elephant in the room is the way he has handled the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate, including Sen. Dave Valesky, who caucus with the Republicans. This in effect blocks Democrats from controlling the Senate, even though they hold a numerical majority, and prevents them from having a trifecta of the state government. This has frustrated members of Cuomo’s party for years, especially Democrats in the Senate leadership, since Republicans have blocked a good portion of progressive legislation from getting to the governor’s desk.

The IDC has been deciding state policy since 2013, and while Cuomo is seen stumping for Democrats, he has been nearly completely silent on any effort to quash the coalition.

Indeed, Politico reported in 2014, quoting anonymous sources, that the governor was actually “deeply involved” in the creation of the IDC and “absolutely” encouraged a partnership that would give the opposite party control of the Senate.

There’s a reason for that. The IDC helps him politically. It gives him an excuse to liberals for why he can’t pass the standard of legislation they might demand up front. But when he does pass progressive legislation, he lets the Senate Republicans water it down enough to the point where it can satisfy moderate Republican voters while also giving him a chance to tout progress to centrist Democrats.

It’s a brilliant tactic. It shapes him to be a progressive who can get an agenda through Republican-controlled chambers. That makes him a classic Clintonian Democrat. And as we know, those are the ones who get presidential nominations.

Cuomo can call himself a progressive. He can call himself a skillful political moderator and an expert in backroom dealmaking. He would be correct in doing so.

But going out there saying Republican congressmen need to be defeated in 2018 in order to “take New York back” is strange.

There will certainly be a Bernie Sanders wing of the party that looks at that objection and ask the governor this: Why do you feel GOP House seats need to be flipped when you can’t flip one of your own legislative bodies? In a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, why can’t New York join California and Oregon and other blue states that have complete Democratic control?

It’s something he will be seriously scrutinized for by the left if he runs for president, especially since the Democratic Party is in ashes nationwide. If he really wants Democrats to improve their standing, he should be first looking at Albany instead of Washington.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Schools Need to Stand Up to Sexual Assault

System of reporting cases needs serious improvement

Schoolhouse Sex Assault By The Numbers

Remember back in school when you were told that if you were being bullied, talk to a teacher or administrator and don’t keep quiet about it?

Apparently, that rule doesn’t apply to many schools themselves.

And sadly, this is not about bullying in the conventional way we think of. It’s a much more sinister form of bullying — sexual assault.

Yes, a term we probably associate more with college campuses is in fact no rarity in secondary education settings. And no, we’re not talking about teacher-and-student situations.

An extraordinary investigative report by The Associated Press released last month uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults of students by students between fall 2011 to spring 2015, 147 of them were in New York state. Remember, those are just the ones that are actually reported.

After the privacy of homes, schools are the second most frequent place where children are sexually assaulted by their peers.

Yes. Schools, places of innocence, places where children spend 10,000 hours between kindergarten and graduation, places where parents believe their kids to be safe, are in fact the site of many dark secrets.

The information AP reported was just as chilling as it was stunning. Here’s just a little of what was discovered.

• Student sexual assault cases happened everywhere, from upper-class suburbs to rural areas.
• All types of children were vulnerable, not just ones who have trouble fitting in.
• Five percent of sexual violence involved 5-and 6-year-olds. The percentage increased significantly between ages 10 and 11 and peaked at 14.
• Peer-on-peer assaults are actually much more common than those by teachers. For every sexual assault reported on school grounds that involved an adult, there were seven by students.

Now, this is not the peck on the lips behind the cubbies we’re talking about. Unwanted fondling was the most common form of assault, but about 20 percent of students assaulted were raped, sodomized or penetrated with an object, the AP found.

The only thing more disgusting than all of that is many schools’ incredible inability to thoroughly address this problem, both overall and on a case-by-case basis. Some have even tried to cover it up, withholding information or hiding evidence.

For instance, parents of a girl who was sexually assaulted in an Iowa school in 2013 didn’t report the incident to police because the elementary school principal said he would take care of it.

He never did.

And many of the schools that do report these cases greatly misconstrue the details. Many reports AP found that involved rape or forced oral sex were often labeled by school administrations as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior.

It’s all about preserving the image, right? No school wants to be known as the one with a lot of sexual assaults among young children. No school wants to be seen in community newspapers that parents are filing lawsuits against them because their middle school-aged child was raped on a school bus or in a locker room.

Well, while schools are busy saving face, they are betraying their most crucial task — ensuring a safe environment for student learning. They are damaging students’ childhoods, hindering their futures and betraying a community of parents who trust these institutions with their children’s lives and wellbeing, all the while ignoring bullies accused of a criminal act. Clearly, there needs to be more transparency and better responses regarding this topic.

So what needs to change?

To start, there is no federal mandate to track sexual violence in schools, though 32 states, including New York, do. However, New York does not verify what individual schools and districts report such cases.

We force college campuses to keep a public crime log, send emergency alerts about sexual assaults, train staff and aid victims. While taking care to protect victims, why can’t such standards be included in middle and high school?

New York currently also tracks cases in two different categories: sexual penetration, with or without a weapon, and other types of inappropriate sexual contact with a weapon. The state is currently in the process of amending that so that all sexually-related incidents are grouped into one category. Let’s hope other states can produce similar rules.

Maybe most importantly is the need to require training aimed at preventing or responding to student-on-student sexual assault — another item New York doesn’t currently mandate. It is bad enough for any student to go through any kind of unwanted sexual ordeal. But just imagine a child who’s just been sexually assaulted and has found the courage to speak out about it, but teachers and administrators don’t believe them or believe that child is just being “oversensitive,” as some have claimed.

In many cases, such a scenario might occur because that teacher or administrator wouldn’t know how to properly handle that because they simply don’t know how to.

When we come to a point where schools can no longer help a student, then we know it’s time for something to change.

While new federal and state measures would be helpful, the last defense will always be the individual schools themselves. Laws don’t patrol hallways or cafeterias on a daily basis, after all.

Schools should take the responsibility of reporting and combating sexual assault seriously. It might be happening in yours. There’s likely much more going on that we don’t know about than what we do. And when it involves our youth, that’s something we cannot take lightly.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Paris Climate Agreement Withdrawal Puts ‘America Last’

The rest of the world will benefit from growing clean energy industry


Nearly 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson returned from Paris in the aftermath of World War I with a proposal for the United States Senate — approve the U.S.’s entry into the League of Nations, Wilson’s plan for global peace through diplomacy that would prevent another world war.

That proposal failed to pass in the Senate.

The rest of the world joined the league. But as we learned, the absence of the U.S., not just as a member, but as a leader, led to its eventual failure.

Some might make that comparison to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, the 2015 agreement led by the Obama administration that includes nearly 200 nations, all with the consensual goal to reduce fossil fuel emissions and encourage clean energy production to slow global warming temperatures. Some worry that with the U.S. pulling out, the effort will collapse.

That may be true.

But what also may be true, and probably much more likely, is that the agreement will survive, but with the members of the European Union and China taking the lead on climate change, both of which have reaffirmed their commitment to the deal.

What this really means is that the EU and Asia will be the ones leading the world into the economy of the future. For the first time in 150 years, the U.S. won’t be. And that’s a huge deal.

President Trump justified his decision as an economic one, arguing that the Paris agreement hurts American workers, particularly those employed by the fossil fuel industry. It is his biggest play yet in his campaign promise to boost jobs in coal and natural gas production.

And the truth is, pulling out of the deal will create more jobs in those fields. Rolling back layers of environmental restrictions put in place by his predecessor has already spurred growth in both of them.

But it will be only temporary. It’s just putting another band-aid on a body that is dying of cancer. The days of coal driving our energy are simply over. Jobs in coal have been on a steady decline for decades. The idea that withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord and slashing environmental regulations is somehow going to make coal mines re-open by the dozens is simply fantasy. Indeed, the emergence of natural gas is what has led to coal’s demise, since it is much cheaper to produce. So thinking coal and natural gas are going to together power this country is another fantasy.

If Trump wants to talk about jobs, he should look elsewhere. You know what field jobs aren’t declining in? Clean energy. For example, there are already more American jobs in the solar industry than in coal mining.

But what Trump basically did Thursday was announce to the world that the U.S. is going to cling to the past and ignore the obvious direction energy is heading in. While we continue to hug a dying fossil fuel industry, a growing clean energy industry will look to other countries to do business with. The president ran a campaign on promising to stop American jobs fleeing overseas. But now that’s exactly what he will be doing. As a consequence of withdrawing from the accord, the United Nations estimates that the U.S. will lose clean energy jobs to Europe, India and China over the next few years.

Global investment in green energy sources totaled $300 billion in 2016. It’s estimated it will reach $6 trillion by 2030. China, the biggest polluter in the world and known for its smong-choked cities, is investing in the capability to build solar panels and will likely lead that sector in the future. Germany is converting a coal mine into a massive renewable “energy battery” and soon hopes to become the leading supplier of electric cars.

While they do that, we’ll be digging coal. Investors will see that as a signal that the U.S. is clearly not interested in getting a hand in an expanding market. We’re essentially throwing away one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest growing portion of the American economy, and surrendering it to Europe and Southeast Asia.

Is that how we make America great again?

The very reason for this country’s economic success story has always been our ability to look ahead. That’s how we were able to land on the moon just 66 years after the first airplane left the ground. That’s how Henry Ford’s concept of the assembly line turned automobiles from a luxurious item into a symbol of American culture. That’s how in just 25 years, the internet went from a tool for just the government and academics to being a major part of our lives and businesses.

President Wilson was able to look ahead. That’s why he worked himself into his grave pushing for the League of Nations. He knew how important it was.

It is unbelievable that Trump cannot share that same vision. Green energy is eventually going to surpass fossil fuels as the world’s lead source of power. And that may happen sooner than we think. Can’t he see that it might be something worth investing in? He’s a businessman for God’s sake.

We’re in a transitional time with a transitional economy. If the U.S. doesn’t make that transition — the same transition the rest of the world is making — we will be left behind. And years from now, we’ll have to say, with great irony, that a policy of “America First” is what did it.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88