Uvalde Police Department (from Facebook), did not keep kids safe.

These Colors Don’t Run (At Least Not Fast Enough)

In the devastating aftermath of the mass killing at a Texas elementary school this week, questions swirl around the police response, or lack there of, while an 18-year-old slaughtered children, we turn to Posse Comitatus.

By Jessica Pishko
By Jessica Pishko

Pishko is a journalist and lawyer based in Dallas, TX. She writes Posse Comitatus, a Substack focused on sheriff's departments. Subscribe to Posse Comitatus here

Just after turning 18, a young man from Uvalde, Texas – a mostly Latinx community outside of San Antonio – legally purchased two AR-15-style rifles. 

On the morning of May 24, the last week of school, he shot his grandmother, then drove to Robb Elementary School, crashing his car. He ran into the school shooting at bystanders, exchanged gunfire with a school resource officer, shot at two other law enforcement officers who were there, then then entered the school and, after barricading himself in a classroom, proceeded to shoot and kill at least 19 children and 2 adults and wounded countless others, almost all of whom appear to have been inside that single classroom. (He also provided updates on social media.)  For an hour. 



Nearly an hour later, off-duty Border Patrol officers (from a special SWAT-style unit known for excessive violence) arrived at the school, got a key from the principal to the classroom door, then entered the classroom and killed the young man. In the meantime, parents were at the school, breaking windows to rescue their children. (Some of the law enforcement officers who were there went to save their own kids.) Law enforcement officers themselves called it a “failure.” Onlookers say that the police seemed “unprepared.”



In a cosmic sense, the shooting is inexplicable. It is also dreadfully common – as is the inadequate police response. So, it’s hard to blame people for some of their public responses, from a sense of mourning, to a desire to lift up the name of the victims (adding them to an ever-increasing list), to invocations of “good” and “evil.” Of course, America kills children all the time – at home and abroad, actively and passively – but, speaking as a parent, there is still something specifically horrible about school shootings.


The calls have already come to increase police presence in schools and fortify school buildings so that they become fortresses. Influenced by America’s history of wars abroad, right-wing politicians, Christian nationalists, and gun influencers argue that bringing counter-terrorism military methods to the people will bring a measure of safety. But who are these people protecting and who are they fighting?



The answer is depressingly obvious. In the wake of the Buffalo shooting where an admitted white supremacist went into a grocery store on a weekend afternoon with the intent to kill as many Black people as possible, the response from law enforcement was crickets. The Eerie County Sheriff, which includes Buffalo, made a requisite comment about “evil,” but there was no real response from the police, no calls to fortify Black neighborhoods, no pictures of officers shaking hands with Black residents.


That’s because law enforcement knows their purpose, to defend the racial hierarchy. Sheriffs are happy to see their own neighborhoods as a battleground, their tactics are of counterinsurgency. The gun industry, the gun lobby, politicians, and the social influencer class all know that firearms are to protect people from the coming race war. So they will double- and triple-down on guns and more guns because it serves their purpose, cements their popularity, and maintains the social order that creates so much violence.


In contrast, all across the country sheriffs’ offices blasted out their intent to protect schools and children (“trip wires” and “man traps”), to increase patrols, and to use their government-subsidized military weaponry to pretend to defend the country’s alleged most precious resource, children.

During a scheduled campaign fundraiser, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse.” Later, he was even more pointed in his racism, saying, “I hate to say this, but there are more people shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas. And we need to realize that people who think that, well maybe if we just implement tougher gun laws, its gonna solve it. Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis. And so, if you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about is not a real solution. Our job is to come up with real solutions that we can implement.” (The mayor of Chicago shot back that Abbott can’t even keep the power on.)


Senator Ted Cruz, not to be outdone, called for “hardening school security” and increased armed guards.

It’s interesting that the only gun control measure politicians (and Elon Musk) can even somewhat agree on are so-called red-flag laws, which mostly target people who display signs of being mentally ill, because everyone, even sheriffs, can agree that “madmen” are the one group of people universally hated by everyone. Democrats, I believe, circle on this as a compromise tactic because most people agree with the idea (even sheriffs), It just doesn’t really address the root of the problem.


And, in probably the most inane response, a sheriff’s deputy from Tarrant County, Texas, went to an elementary school and gave a presentation that included photos of AR-15s as part of a “career day” presentation.


Their blustering even hides the obvious, which is that the police – and definitely sheriffs – cannot protect us.


Indeed, the entire apparatus – law enforcement officers, lawyers, judges, legislators – are to blame as they seem happy to execute people by firing squad so long as it is in secret, but when children are murdered, they pretend that they prevent – not create and protect – violence.    


And why should law enforcement be required to protect any of us when the reality is that their violence is only intended to uphold a social order that benefits only certain people in society? The rise of Christian nationalism has made it clear that what powerful pollical factions of this country want is a Christian ethno-state where bodies are policed in order to assure the reproduction of heteronormative, self-sustaining family systems while the apparatus of the state itself is allowed to dwindle to a shriveled husk, no longer able to ensure that water is drinkable or that children have food to eat.


Police cause more violence. They kill residents of communities. They kill and abuse their family members (and children) more often than non-police. They even kill themselves because causing violence to others in a systemic way is bad for the human psyche. Therefore, the solution to violence can never be more violence – violence will always be in service to white supremacy.


On the left, I noticed an intense desire to analyze the police in Uvalde and how they failed to protect children (and white people’s disappointment in discovering that’s what police do). It’s true, of course, but also a symptom of policing in general, as Alex Vitale told The Intercept:


Instead of marshaling a robust preventative intervention, we wait until the problem expresses itself as a mass killing, and then we microanalyze the police response…This is a completely backwards way to approach the problem. Because policing is an inherently inadequate response to these things. By the time the shooting starts, the police intervention is going to be reactive. People will already be dead.


More analysis of how to “better” police response just plays into the hands of those who want more violence.


Meanwhile, the right is arguing for the closure of public schools. It’s a bit ironic given how the same coalition is not willing to pay teachers a living wage, ensure children have homes, or support COVID mitigation measures. But, of course, this has been part of their plan all along, a desire to return to segregated communities and white Christian nationalism. In a way, it’s the logical endpoint of their war on the rest of us — horde resources, bunker up, and send soldiers to protect the order that they have always wanted.



This article was first published in Posse Comitatus and republished with permission.


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