In Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students (Post Hill Press, c. 2019, Kindle Edition), Andrew Pollack maintains that his daughter, Meadow, died not because of guns or NRA deviousness but because permissive school district policies enabled the killer (Nikolas Cruz) to escape proper treatment and unleash his fury on the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, located in Parkland, Florida. According to Meadow’s brother, Hunter: “If one single adult in the Broward County school district had made one responsible decision about the Parkland shooter, then my sister would still be alive. But every bad decision they made makes total sense once you understand the district’s politically correct policies, which started here in Broward and have spread to thousands of schools across America” (#111).
This is not, of course, to diminish the responsibility of Nikolas Cruz! He was, as is detailed in three lengthy chapters, a troubled young man. Indeed: “There was something profoundly dark and disturbed at the core of Nikolas Cruz’s soul. Even his mother, Lynda, described her son as ‘evil’” (#1816). His kindergarten teachers worried about his aggressiveness and fantasies. He was known to enjoy torturing animals as well as threatening other students, and wherever he went he misbehaved and “wrecked havoc.” In and out of special schools designed to help disturbed youngsters, he was frequently identified as a threat to both himself and others. His teachers and counselors feared him. “They knew about his obsession with guns and dreams about killing people. They were so frightened that they took the extremely rare step of contacting his private psychiatrist. Yet not only did they return him to a traditional high school at an unprecedented speed, they also enrolled him in JROTC, a course in which he would learn to shoot using an air gun that resembled an AR-15” (#2187). While the killings were taking place many staff and students suspected Cruz was the killer. Sheriff’s officers had over the years responded to calls at Cruz’s home a total of 45 times. But nothing was done to deal effectively with him. They were all committed to following “the philosophy of the Broward school district, as expressed by Superintendent Runcie: ‘We are not going to continue to arrest our kids’ and give them a criminal record” (#2554).
Following the Parkland shooting, many Americans demanded action, and politicians quickly began posturing, promising, and endlessly pontificating. Responding to the outrage President Trump set up a “listening session” and invited Parkland parents, including Andy Pollack, to attend. He spoke briefly and urged practical steps be taken to prevent further tragedies. Subsequently the president talked with him and his son, discussing how to make the nation’s schools safer. Returning to Florida, Pollack determined to memorialize his daughter by establishing a playground in her memory (Princess Meadow’s Playground) and establishing a nonprofit, Americans for Children’s Lives and School Safety (CLASS). Yet his efforts were barely noticed amidst the massive national publicity generated by a group of Parkland students who organized a “March For Our Lives” to singularly focus on gun control.
But Pollack knew guns were not the real problem. So he began an intensive investigation, determined to understand why his daughter had died and he concluded the main culprit was a pernicious political correctness that pervaded Broward County bureaucracies: school district officials, mental health providers, and law enforcement officers all failed. “The only man who could have stopped him, School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, refused to enter the building and actively prevented other officers from entering” (#839). He drew his gun—and stood still, safely hiding for 50 minutes! “Ever since Columbine, police have been trained to immediately confront a school shooter” but Peterson stayed safe! Five other deputies arrived, donned bulletproof vests, and listened (from safe distances, hiding behind cars or trees) to the gunfire killing kids. Eleven long minutes passed before some of the deputies dared enter the building, long after the shooter had fled the scene. Two courageous teachers died trying to protect the students, but law enforcement officers lacked their resolve.
Especially culpable, in Pollack’s view, was the school superintendent, Robert Runcie, who meticulously followed federal guidelines issued by Barak Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan. He hewed carefully to the agenda promoted by “social justice activist groups” which insisted schools serve “as laboratories for social justice engineering and force politically correct policies into our schools based on the assumption that teachers are too prejudiced to be trusted do the right things. One policy is known as ‘discipline reform’ or ‘restorative justice.’ Activists and bureaucrats worried that minority students were being disciplined at higher rates than white students, and rather than recognize that misbehavior might reflect bigger problems and inequities outside of school, they blamed teachers for the disparity. They essentially accused teachers of racism and sought to prevent teachers from enforcing consequences for bad behavior. They thought that if students didn’t get disciplined at school, if instead teachers did ‘healing circles’ with them or something, then students wouldn’t get in trouble in the real world. Superintendents then started pressuring principals to lower the number of suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests. All that actually happened was that everyone looked the other way or swept disturbing behavior under the rug, making our schools more dangerous” (#227).
To personalize his presentation Pollack portrays a number of folks intimately involved in the event. There’s a math teacher, Kimberly Krawczyk, who was almost killed and became quickly disillusioned with the school district’s cover-up endeavors. And there’s an immigrant father, Royer Borges, who “moved his family from Venezuela to America in 2014 to keep them safe” (#756). His son was shot and seriously injured, so he hired an attorney to represent him. Doing research, the attorney found an essay that linked the shooting with Parkland’s progressive educational policies, especially the district’s PROMISE program, which had been heavily funded by wealthy leftists such as Goerge Soros. PROMISE was proposed and implemented to help “the victims of institutional racism” by refusing to arrest and punish public school students. When Royer Borges learned about PROMISE’s permissive prescriptions, he “was furious. He couldn’t believe that public officials had decided that the law shouldn’t apply in schools. And he couldn’t believe that no one was going after Broward’s leaders for rolling the dice with children’s lives. It made no sense to Royer why instead of going after these local officials, everyone was marching on Washington, D.C. for gun control. Venezuela had total gun control. That’s how the government and the colectivos were able to terrorize the citizens” (#831).
Adding scholarly heft to the book is its co-author, Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, who had long researched and written about education and its needed reforms, concluding that a “‘social justice industrial complex’ had taken hold of American education” (#1010). Using money from Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill, Arne Duncan had used money “to incentivize (some might say bribe) states to follow DCPS’s policy lead on test-based teacher evaluations and the new (and much-hated) Common Core academic standards.” Educrats from across the country, attending ‘“woke’ conferences and training programs, . . . learned that the fastest path to career advancement is to fake statistical progress for minority students while passionately decrying privilege and institutional racism” (#1015). Florida’s “Broward County was the standard-bearer for the new approach to school discipline: an aggressive push for leniency on the grounds that racially biased teachers were unfairly punishing minority students” (#1017). Eden was also deeply distressed by the conduct of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, which was determined to end “the school to mass murder pipeline” pattern evident throughout the region. To do so the sheriff joined the school district and its PROMISE program by refusing to arrest adolescents. Despite multiple calls to Cruz’s house and repeated warnings regarding his conduct, he was given a “free pass” that ultimately enabled him to launch his killing spree.
An unexpected hero in Why Meadow Died is a 19 year-old home-schooler named Kenny Preston, who proved to be the most tenacious and perceptive “journalist” writing about the shootings. When he recognized two of the students killed by the shooter Preston began studying the incident and was early appalled by the reactions of Broward County authorities. He spotted Superintendent Runcie’s instant concern to deflect attention from himself rather than mourn the victims’ deaths and was distressed by Sheriff Israel’s calloused response to questions. “That’s when something inside of Kenny flipped. The bodies of children who had been murdered under Runcie’s leadership were still lying on the schoolhouse floor directly behind him, and he had already started politicking” (#1315). So Kenny Preston dug into the documents he could access on-line and interviewed a number of persons, including “Robert Martinez, a recently retired school resource officer, who told him, ‘We all knew some sort of tragedy like this was going to happen in Broward. You can’t just stop arresting kids without expecting something like this. As officers, our hands were tied.’ More alarming still, Martinez told Kenny that district officials had explicitly told school resource officers not to arrest students for felonies, in addition to the official PROMISE misdemeanors” (#1419). Kenny’s on-line articles proved more perceptive than the mainstream media, which could do little more than repeat anti-NRA bromides. In fairness, some of the local Florida papers did more honest work, but the story detailing Why Meadow Died remained largely for her father to tell!
Concluding that the Broward County school board needed to change, Andy Pollack and a group of activists motivated by the Parkland shootings decided to challenge its entrenched power structures. So they ran candidates who mounted a vigorous campaign. But all was naught! Brossard County reelected the seasoned politicians aligned with Robert Runcie, and little was done to address the real problems in the district. Though he was non-political (never even voting) before the shootings, Pollack finally realized: “This happened in a Democrat county with a Democrat sheriff, a Democrat superintendent, and a Democrat school board, implementing Democrat ideas on criminal justice, Democrat ideas on special education, and Democrat ideas on school discipline. And after Democrat voters gave all these Democrats a resounding vote of confidence in the school board election, the Democrat teachers union president, Anna Fusco, wrote in a Facebook group about our campaign for accountability: ‘Now you can all shut up!’ Meanwhile, at the national level, Democrat organizers swooped in and weaponized my daughter’s murder for their Democrat agenda and to fund-raise to elect more Democrats” (#6220).
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In Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors Are Sabotaging America’s Military (Washington: Regnery Gateway Editions, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), James Hasson explains: “The Army that I entered as a second lieutenant during President Obama’s initial years in office was nothing like the Army I left [as a captain] in late 2015” (#7) because of an “eight-year social engineering campaign against our armed forces” (#15) waged by “hard-left ideologues” such as Ray Mabus, Brad Carson, Deborah Lee James and Eric Fanning, who occupied “some of the most influential national security positions” (#23). They were all committed to radical feminist and LGBT ideologies and implemented “gender equality” programs, following President Obama’s orders. He had famously promised to fundamentally transform the country, and Hasson believes he certainly did so in the one realm “over which he would exercise nearly complete control,” the military. Illustrating such changes, a 2012 article in Stars and Stripes described how, in one Washington state post: “The Army is ordering its hardened combat veterans to wear fake breasts and empathy bellies so they can better understand how pregnant soldiers feel during physical training” (#2182). Then, in “2015, Army ROTC cadets at multiple universities participated in ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ events on campuses. The events—‘designed to raise awareness about sexual violence against women’—had male Army cadets replace their combat boots with bright red high-heeled shoes” (#2183). So Stand Down “is the story of what will be President Obama’s enduring legacy: the sacrifice of the combat readiness of our armed forces to the golden calves of identity politics and progressive ideology” (#94) shaped and driven by homosexual and radical feminist activists.
Such golden calves were installed in the nation’s military academies, which have substantially changed during the past 25 years as increased numbers of civilian professors have been hired. Indeed, Hassan “interviewed academy graduates of all ranks who raised serious concerns about the cultural changes imposed upon the academies from above” (#490), all of whom were alarmed by the incursions of political correctness in these schools. Symptomatic of the problem is a letter written by Robert Heffington, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who had taught at West Point. He said: “‘I firmly believe West Point is a national treasure and that it can and should remain a vitally important source of well trained, highly educated Army officers and civilian leaders. However, during my time on the West Point faculty . . . I personally witnessed a series of fundamental changes at West Point that have eroded it to the point where I question whether the institution should even remain open.” He charged that “standards at West Point are nonexistent” and lamented “the academy’s failure to enforce the honor code and its lax enforcement of conduct and disciplinary standards.” Changes in West Point’s curriculum particularly distressed Huffington: “‘The plebe American History course has been revamped to focus solely on race and on the narrative that America is founded solely on a history of racial oppression. Cadets derisively call it the ‘I Hate America Course.’ Simultaneously, the plebe International History course now focuses on gender to the exclusion of many other important themes. On the other hand, an entire semester of military history was recently deleted from the curriculum . . . at West Point!” (#502).
Turning to the other academies Hassan finds equally disturbing phenomena, even extending to concerns for “microaggressions”! Training warriors by worrying about microaggressions seems at best counterproductive, but one finds “safe space” placards adorning office doors of both military and civilian professors at the United States Naval Academy. “If the signs were stripped of identifying features, you would be hard pressed to distinguish them from those marking the offices of Yale gender studies professors” (#645). There’s even a “Safe Spaces Faculty Rep” entrusted with making sure no midshipman might be offended by offensive words. At the Air Force Academy, a visiting psychology professor taught a course on “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Men and Masculinity.” The professor styles himself as a feminist and once wrote an article saying, “I challenge you to tell me one way in which the sexes are opposite” (#670). The academy also deleted the phrase “so help me God” from the oath of enlistment in its cadet handbook as well as the cadet Honor Oath.
Illustrating the harm political correctness has done the military is the “real” story of females graduating from the Army’s Ranger School—considered by many “the hardest combat course on the planet.” “For the sixty-two days of the course, candidates train for up to twenty hours a day and subsist on little more than a thousand daily calories” (#1300). Only a few wanna-be male Rangers actually make it. But in 2016 the Army celebrated two women for completing the course. Then a journalist, Susan Katz Keating, decided to investigate the story and found the women were granted special exemptions and treatment, getting special “individualized training” and granted additional time “in the ‘pre-Ranger’ screening course despite failing critical tests. And the instructors felt intense pressure to make sure the women passed, pressure that led to sharp departures from normal Ranger School standards” (#1213). For example, whereas men were given only 48 hours to recover from stage one of the training before moving on, the women were given two to three months “to regain lost sleep, allow taxed muscles to recuperate, and otherwise recover physically” (#1355). On-site instructors (speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation) universally commended the women’s efforts but lamented “how systematic political pressure forced changes to the legendary Ranger course, damaging its integrity, just as political pressure forced detrimental changes at every level of the military during the eight years of the Obama administration” (#1454).
In 2013 the Obama administration determined to allow women to serve in ground combat units. Asked to study the issue, the various services prepared reports. The Marines devised a meticulous study designed to record “injury rates, the speed at which the companies evacuated causalities on the ground, marksmanship scores, and dozens of other measurements.” They thought, if all-male units proved superior, the Administration would preserve their traditions. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, former Marine Captain Jude Eden, “summarized what they found: ‘[A]ll-male units outperformed coed units in 69 percent of the 134 combat tasks. . . . If the figure had been even a mere five percent difference it would have been ample reason to maintain women’s exemption, since five percent is easily and frequently the difference between life and death in offensive ground combat. But in fact the figure was 69 percent!” (#1615).
University of Pittsburg researchers “conducted a comparative analysis of all-male and mixed-sex infantry units’ performance in critical battle drills and corroborated the findings of other teams. In a thorough analysis of the injury reports from each of the training exercises, the researchers also discovered that the injury rate for female Marines during weight-carrying exercises was more than twice that of their male counterparts” (#1675). The issue was never whether or not women could fight and die but whether they could “walk up to fifteen miles a day, carry eighty pounds of equipment, and often sleep and tend to bodily functions in austere environments with little to no privacy?” (#1933). In fact, virtually none can! But the Obama administration cared little for facts. Senior military officers soon learned “that the administration had no interest in military readiness or lethality. Instead, it was waging an ideologically driven campaign with an end goal of creating an equal number of male and female generals and the first female chair of the joint chiefs” (#1988).
All available evidence merely confirms common sense: “there are real and substantial physiological differences between men and women” (#1629). But who cares! The Administration, imposing its agenda upon the Marine Corps, was determined to “crack the glass ceiling” by placing women in combat units, opening for them important opportunities for promotion. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus was especially determined to sexually integrate combat units because he was pursuing an “ideologically driven quest for a ‘genderless’ Navy and Marine Corps. He directed senior naval commanders to “ensure [that job titles] are gender-integrated . . . removing ‘man’ from their titles. Traditional naval and Marine Corps job titles such as ‘yeoman’ and ‘rifleman’—titles that date to the founding of our republic—apparently needed to be changed to reflect a ‘gender-integrated’ force” (#1875). Though the job titles were not actually changed, Mabus did manage to redesign uniforms to better fit women, and his broader agenda was enacted, fully in accord with radical feminist dogma.
Concluding his case, Hasson insists the United States still has the finest military in the world, but its strength is eroding. Political correctness is “hurting our ability to retain talented officers and enlisted troops who entered the military for all the right reasons but find they spend their days acting as bureaucrats” implementing societal change” (#2727). To rectify the problem the author thinks we must immediately reverse many of the Obama policies. Doing so would enable us to follow the prescription of Revolutionary War hero “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, who “said he could not ‘withhold my denunciation of the wickedness and folly’ of a government that sent its soldiers ‘to the field uninformed and untaught.’ Such a government, he believed, was ‘the murderer of its citizens.’” (#2816).