Yesterday morning, Evanston Township High School (ETHS) was placed on lockdown for several hours after the Evanston Police Department recovered two loaded handguns and cannabis from a group of students. All those believed to be involved were detained by police, no shots were fired, and there were no injuries. The Evanston Police Department provided more details about this incident at a press conference yesterday afternoon, which you can find on the City’s website. Their investigation into this incident is ongoing.
I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to the Evanston Police Department for their swift, professional, and thorough work that ensured the safety of ETHS students, faculty, and staff. We all benefit from their skill and dedication.
Also, let me acknowledge that the last several weeks have left many in our community feeling deeply unsettled. Yesterday’s event came on the heels of a series of troubling social media postings related to District 65 schools, as well as, of course, the tragic shooting of November 28.
This is all part of a nationwide trend of increasing gun violence. The very fact of its broad scope means that this situation resists simple, politically convenient explanations. It’s a national problem that requires national AND local solutions.
But while none of this is simple, a few important facts are, to my way of thinking, clear. First of all, we simply cannot expect a society with as many readily available guns as ours to avoid horrific episodes of violence. It’s not realistic, and it won’t happen — so we have to reverse the proliferation of guns in our community.
Additionally, the pandemic has taken a deep toll on our mental health and on our ability to treat one another with kindness, dignity, and respect. People are hurting in a way that pre-2020 life didn’t really prepare them for, and we’ve all been experiencing this horror in varying degrees of isolation, which has left us out of practice at interacting with others. As a result, at least in my experience, we’re seeing more meanness, cruelty, and intolerance.
Finally, social media makes all of this stuff worse. It allows ugly rumors and misinformation to spread far more quickly than clarifications and corrections. It gives people a way to interact without the in-person social cues and norms that help us restrain our worst selves. It enables feuds to continually escalate, even when people are physically separate, so that cooling-off time is basically a thing of the past.
A world of quarantine and physical isolation layered on top of heavy social media usage is perfectly designed to make us less mentally healthy, angrier, and, at least potentially, more violent.
I’m sure you can tell that I’m personally very worried about these trends. I understand that this message doesn’t follow the usual elected official template of “here’s the problem and now here’s the solution.” There are certainly very important things that the City can do, and I’m committed to maintaining a relentless focus on them, including at our special City Council meeting this coming Monday evening to address violence prevention strategies.
But there are also things that each of us can do that will make an enormous difference. Be kind to those around you, even when it doesn’t feel easy, or warranted — or even possible. Give others grace as they navigate these troubled times. Model peaceful behavior. Most of all, lift up those who are hurting and show them love. Show them they are valued and wanted.
Our community’s generosity and altruism never cease to amaze me. And in this painful moment, I am certain that those are the qualities that will build the world we need. I pledge to do my best to live up to this credo, and I know and deeply appreciate that you’re doing the same.
Wishing you safety, health, and peace,
Mayor, City of Evanston