A year from now, the good people of Highland Park will be wondering whether to hold a parade.
There will be a school of thought believing the town must get back to something approaching Independence Day normalcy, if only for the sake of its children; others will worry that a parade will trigger the trauma of 2022, when a hidden assailant fired his assault-style rifle in the direction of grandparents and kids, community stalwarts and hardworking parents. He killed six and sent 30 more to hospitals that were expecting nothing more of the day than a few minor injuries from fireworks.
There will be kids who remember the sounds and the fears and who won’t want to go next year. Mothers will fear copycats. There will be public officials determined to not let evil win and those who won’t want to retraumatize the town.
And these worries won’t be confined to Highland Park. Public safety officials in neighboring towns will start to worry not about which new squad car or ambulance to put in the parade — a time-honored July 4 concern — but whether there is a vantage point for a shooter in one of the tall buildings in communities that have almost no tall buildings, but rather homes, parks, low-rise apartment buildings and quiet-loving families, not a few of whom had moved there to escape the cacophony of the big city of their youth.
This is what, according to authorities, one cowardly young man, the scion of a well-known and now stained Highland Park family, wrought with the aid of his high-powered weapon.
Little yet is known of the shooter’s motivation but Americans have by now seen enough to know that these disillusioned, nihilistic killers often want to go for maximum shock value, be that an elementary school in Texas or a small-town celebration on an iconic day on the calendar, when people’s guards are down. The scale of the horror clearly is part of the symbolic weight of their heinous acts. In an era obsessed with personal narratives, they want the internet to blow up over what they’ve done. It feels as if they want the most brutal kind of revenge for their own inadequacies.
Do we have to live like this?
Once Highland Park has mourned its dead and tended to its wounded, that’s really the only salient question. Do we?
As we wave at marching bands, are we all supposed to keep watching our backs and looking for a place where we might hide our children if shots ring out?
Are security forces going to have to sweep every building as if the parade were a presidential walkabout, bankrupting the public safety budget? Is this where we have arrived, together? Do we no longer believe there is an alternative?
Clearly, easy access to the kind of high-powered weapons that can kill scores of people has to be drastically curtailed. Only a fool cannot see this now, given the weight of the evidence. It takes guts to change position in the face of new proofs, but being optimists, we believe some politicians are capable of that transformation. We are looking forward to the announcements and will respect them when they come.
For whatever right some believe an amendment to the Constitution grants to their purchase is in the process of shredding a yet more crucial tenet of life in the United States of America, our shared foundational right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Especially on the Fourth of July.
In Highland Park, that date brought death, confinement and the arrival of sorrow. Action is needed, far beyond the baby steps already taken in Congress.
Then there is the matter of the person behind the gun, of the likelihood of psychosis, of how a young person can become so alienated and angry that they do such a thing without anyone around them being able to anticipate the event in such a way as to stop it. Some young American men are in profound and often unspoken crisis; already, there have been media reports of the shooting suspect headed down the kind of disturbing path of videos and dark corners of the internet that is now familiar from so many previous incidents, each one building on the one that came before.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of the North Shore’s police departments, the suspect was apprehended alive and without further incident. His state of mind will need to be studied so we all can learn. For the only solution here is many-pronged and requires a level of common-sense unity that this country appears to have forgotten how to come together and achieve. Instead, we rage on our laptops, even as the world marvels at this all-American nightmare (“even on their independence day,” the BBC marveled) and our children wonder what world we have wrought for them.
For now, though, we all must cry with the people of Highland Park and note what was likely the saddest July Fourth in the history of Illinois.
May it also be the start of a new resolve.