Opinion: We still don’t know how to react to mass tragedies

Matt Poe

As I’m sure most of you are aware by now, 11 people were injured at The Ohio State University this past Monday when a student drove his car into a group and subsequently attacked multiple students and faculty with a butcher knife.

The suspect, an 18-year-old OSU freshman and Somali immigrant, was shot and killed by an OSU police officer just minutes after the incident began. Authorities are currently investigating the incident to conclude if it was an act of terrorism.

It was the latest incident of mass violence in a country that has grown accustomed and numb to these types of tragedies. For many, however, it hit closer to home because of its proximity; It’s likely you know someone who goes to OSU or is connected to the university in some way because — after all — it’s hard not to when you live in this state.

I’m from Columbus. When I’m not at school, OSU is my home. Hell, I spend more time down there with friends than I do at my own house when I’m away from Kent State, so this incident hit home for me in many ways.

Several friends of mine were supposed to be near that area of campus when the incident occurred Monday morning. And for different reasons, they thankfully didn’t make it to class that morning.

Funny how that works some times.

This incident wasn’t the first of its kind, and it won’t be the last. Similarly, the way we react and address these types of situations is sadly not going to change any time soon. And no, that’s not me being some pessimistic armchair therapist.

I’ve come to the realization (take that as you will) that we as individuals and as a society do not know how to respond properly to incidents of mass violence. From Sandy Hook to OSU, we perform a continuous cycle when mass tragedy occurs: panic, shock, grief, anger, condemnation and standstill. The first four are emotions and reactions I cannot fault anyone for. They are inherently human, and I’ve succumbed to them as much as the next person.

But where we as a society must learn to change, is how we confront current instances of mass tragedy and violence in the hopes that we can break this vicious cycle.

Because once those early, necessary emotions begin to wear off, we are replaced with a much more potent wave that begins to form in the back of the mind: stereotyping, racism and unjust fear. Which, in reality, are all the types of negative emotions the people who carry out these acts want us to feel, further feeding their twisted logic. These emotions usually don’t wear off and that’s where the standstill comes into play, a perpetuated state for many.

What’s the answer to how we should respond?

I don’t know, and that’s the worst part of all. I know that continuing to support law enforcement and their responses to these situations is crucial.

I applaud the efforts of most on social media to keep those in the area alert, and Facebook for allowing students and others in the area to “check in” to let people know they’re out of harm’s way. As ridiculous as social media can be, it proved irreplaceable in this case.

What I do know is that instances like these make me appreciate everyday a little bit more and should remind us to tell those close to us that we love them. I’m reminded how easily these tragedies can happen anywhere — not just in far off places that seem to only exist on a map or in our minds like San Bernardino, California, and Nice, France.

I’m reminded that it’s imperative we allow ourselves to grieve for a while. I’m reminded that fear is a poison that only leads to problems.

But in the end, I’m reminded that we still have so far to go in preventing these instances and how much further we have to go in responding to them. Today, I’m reminded that we’re long on questions and so very short on reasonable answers.

Matt Poe is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].