I don’t have a cutesy intro for you today. Not a moment of nostalgia to share or a sweet story, just fury and sorrow in my heart.
At the end of last month, Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, was attacked by a shooter. 19 children were murdered: Nevaeh Bravo, Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, Makenna Lee Elrod, Jose Flores, Eliahna Garcia, Uziyah Garcia, Amerie Jo Garza, Xavier Lopez, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, Tess Mata, Maranda Mathis, Alithia Ramirez, Annabell Rodriguez, Maite Rodriguez, Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, Layla Salazar, Jailah Nicole Silguero, Eliahana Cruz Torres and Rojelio Torres. Two teachers, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, were also killed. 17 more people were injured. 19 children will never age past elementary school. They’ll never get the chance to pass or fail their driver’s test, graduate from middle or high school or, worst of all, find out how enormously they were, and would be, loved as they moved through the world. Two teachers were also robbed of their futures, and countless families, friends and community members will never be the same. It didn’t have to be this way.
Everyone has responded to the news in their own way — most with horror, as I have. It’s important that we leave room for grief. While some have shared calls to action to demand gun control legislation from elected officials, others have demanded a “school shooting episode” from “Abbott Elementary” creator and star, Quinta Brunson (“A Black Lady Sketch Show”). “Abbott Elementary” will not and should not produce such an episode. Here are some of the many reasons why.
It is not the job of the majority-Black cast of “Abbott Elementary” to traumatize themselves (further, since existing as a Black person in the United States is trauma itself) for entertainment. The episode doesn’t need to exist to purportedly “raise awareness” either. This isn’t an awareness issue: We all know what’s going on, and it has been going on in this country for decades now. Students, synagogue attendees and grocery shoppers are gunned down on a regular basis. If “Abbott Elementary” were to create such an episode, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the first time news of a shooting appeared on television screens. The purpose of “Abbott Elementary” is to provide entertainment, which it does thoroughly, enthralling us with the slow burn between Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams, “Let it Shine”), amusing us with Melissa’s (Lisa Ann Walter, “The Parent Trap”) ‘I know a guy’ quips and keeping us laughing with the antics of the young cast, all the while calling attention to the need to fund public education. Just because “Abbott” takes itself seriously as entertainment and is mindful of the positive change it could enact does not give viewers the right to demand that it address tragedy as they see fit. “Abbott” doesn’t owe you that — but someone does: your elected officials.
It’s far past time for our government officials to handle the uniquely severe American gun violence epidemic properly: with gun control legislation. Incidences of mass shootings in the United States have, by some estimates, increased by 183% since 2005, when President Clinton’s 1994 ban on assault rifles (during which mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely) was allowed to expire. The federal government has neglected to act appropriately to stop this bloodshed under the pretense that giving more money to police and stationing more officers at schools is sufficient protection. Actually, it’s the opposite — increasing funds to cops and having more on school grounds is actively harmful. This week’s events in Uvalde illustrate this point well: If police presence were truly helpful, the death toll would suggest that there were no police on the scene when the shooter was roaming freely. This is far from the case; there were officers at the school, with at least 19 on the scene during most of the carnage. There were Border Patrol agents on the site of the Uvalde shooting as well, supplementing the police presence and further traumatizing the community. The shooter entered without any resistance, and officers failed to pursue him — the shooter was in the building for over an hour and barricaded himself in a classroom. During that hour, children in the building called the police for help numerous times. The shooter had his finger on the trigger, but the cops on scene, anyone who said they were sufficient protection and people in positions of power who neglect to support gun control legislation are complicit in these 21 murders.
It’s far more impactful that “Abbott Elementary” contributes a rare representation of Black joy on screen than it would be for them to further overrepresent Black suffering, traumatizing their actors in the process. The child actors on “Abbott,” as well as children all across the country, are traumatized more than enough by the mere possibility of a shooter entering their classrooms, emphasized thoroughly by school-shooter drills, or worse, by the rehearsed scenario actually happening, as it has in Uvalde. To ask the Black cast members of “Abbott Elementary” to perform as shooting victims when they already have to worry that they’ll become one in real life is not only unproductive, but cruel.
Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at email@example.com.