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How long is six minutes and 20 seconds? It's a long segment on the evening news. It's a long song on the radio.

Nearly two years ago, it was time enough for a troubled kid named Nikolas Cruz to shoot 33 people with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen died, making Cruz the sole perpetrator of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, surpassing the 15 that died in the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999.

Some believe we should refrain from mentioning the names of people like Cruz or Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. Some think that part of what motivates these killers is a lust for notoriety and that if we refrain from naming them, we might erect a disincentive to flamboyant violence. These people say that if we stop celebrating murderers, then people will stop seeking celebrity through violence.

Some believe this with a ferocity that approaches religious passion. Some believe the culture manufactures these kinds of killers. I sometimes believe this too, although every case is unique and our motives are always confused and in some respects obscure.

There are some things we can do to make our world safer, but we can never make our world safe. There have always been and will always be young men like Cruz and Klebold and Harris. We are inherently dangerous animals.

I cannot imagine that not reporting the names of criminals would have any real effect. I don't think executing people has any real effect. Other things we haven't tried might have some effect, but there are reasons we haven't tried these things. You are what you do, not what you say you'd like to do or what you hope to do someday.

Nikolas Cruz is not mentioned by name in After Parkland, but it has nothing to do with any prescriptive notion of how we might avert tragedy. (You couldn't begin to tell a true story of the massacre without him, without including something of his history of abuse and trauma.) It's more interested in what happens to the survivors after the news cycle has moved on. It's about how living through something catastrophic changes you.

The cliche is that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and though that's stupid--what doesn't kill you can still break you--some of us find ways to knit our lives back together, to go on and even entertain the possibility of happiness.

It is a remarkably gentle and empathetic documentary about the aftermath of the massacre by Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman that probably isn't what you think. It's probably a movie you should try to see--it is screening for free at 7 p.m. Wednesday at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville and will soon be released on DVD by Kino Lorber.

Taguchi and Lefferman are producers for ABC News whose work is often featured on Nightline. Their strategy here is simple: They let their cameras linger in the wake of the Parkland massacre, following a number of students and families as they resume classes and their lives, play basketball and go to prom. Famously, some of these children emerged as public figures, speaking out about what they had witnessed and and what they had lost.

A lot of you voiced strong opinions about them on social media. As unbelievable as it might seem, nearly two years later when nobody thinks much about the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history any more, lots of scurrilous things were said and written about those kids, especially David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez (who only appears briefly in the film, delivering a speech at the March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C., a little more than a month after the shooting) and some of the other young people who began appearing in the media in the aftermath.

I saved a Facebook post from a guy who, less than a month after the shooting, decried Hogg as "a mouthy, young, progressive punk who is using the tragedy at his school to engage in disingenuous political grandstanding."

Ironically, the Facebook warrior went on to describe Hogg as "disrespectful."

Others offered "evidence" that Hogg was a crisis actor in his mid-20s and that the Parkland shooting was a "false flag" operation akin to Sandy Hook.

But as After Parkland makes clear, Hogg is just a kid. An articulate, angry kid galvanized by grief. In the film, he says that going back to school after the shooting is like surviving a plane crash, then boarding that same plane every day without the underlying mechanical problems having been fixed.

In that way, he's not so different from Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the attack while she was trying to shield another student who also died.

"You get a rage you don't want anyone else to feel," Pollack says in a White House meeting attended by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. "There should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it."

Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed, takes a different tact--he forms the non-profit Change the Ref, which uses "urban art as creative confrontation." He incorporates images of Joaquin into his messages.

Oliver believes the game is rigged, that a powerful gun lobby exerts more influence over Congress than the will of the American people. Pollack is a conservative who's realistic about the prospects of gun control legislation--in the wake of the massacre he campaigns to make schools harder targets, with better security.

They're both right, and they're both frustrated with the reflexive thoughts and prayers proffered by grown-up men and women who've taken on the responsibility of providing for the general welfare of Americans.

There aren't any answers offered by the movie; things aren't that easy. What After Parkland does provide, however, is the testimony of witnesses.

And while we have seen recent evidence of official resistance to such evidence, it is hard to understand why we shouldn't listen.


Editorial on 02/09/2020


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