What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was an unspeakable act of evil from which the American public is still reeling. Vitriolic fights about what should or should not be done in response have dominated the news cycle, and the very students who survived the horrific shooting have been major figures in these exchanges. In every press appearance, the trauma, grief, anger, confusion and fear with which these students are grappling is on full display. We as a nation have come face to face with the effects of human sin, and it has proved to be a brutal process that has brought out the worst in many people. In no person is this more clear than in Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Israel became a prominent figure in the national discourse on gun control after the Feb. 21 CNN Town Hall, where he declared that anyone who opposed strict gun control measures was not standing up for those affected by the shooting. When faced with legitimate questions from NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch about the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s failure to act on death threats the shooter directed at his peers, he “called BS.” The next day, Israel pointed the finger at Sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson, condemning him for not entering the school to neutralize the shooter; but since then, questions about neglect of duty have drifted back to Israel as more details about BSO’s dealings with the shooter have been revealed. Records obtained by Buzzfeed show that BSO had responded to as many as 45 calls about the shooter since 2008 (the office insists it has only responded to 23).
As it became more clear that the Sheriff’s department under Israel’s leadership could have prevented the shooting by simply doing their job, Israel doubled down on his self-congratulatory statements. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Israel claimed he has shown, in his words, “amazing leadership” as Sheriff. In the same breath, he said that he is not responsible for the decisions of his deputies, and that, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, he has taken BSO to a new level. When Tapper asked Israel if the shooting might not have happened if his department had acted differently, Israel dismissed the notion entirely, saying, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books.”
In Sheriff Israel’s statements, we see the hallmarks of unrestrained pride: He has denied personal responsibility and refused to admit that his leadership has been anything but “amazing.” It is important to realize that pride does not swell to such an astonishing level overnight. Rather, it builds up over time and often contributes to the very situations that reveal it. We now know that one of the largest Sheriff’s offices in the country was somehow unable to deal with an individual about whom 45 calls were made. He was not arrested despite explicitly threatening to kill people and “become a professional school shooter.” With a Sheriff’s department as large as Broward County’s, one can hardly claim lack of resources as the culprit. After all, they were not dealing with a criminal syndicate, but a single individual. Yet apparently, the department had bigger fish to fry. This is just one way that pride works insidiously in those who are slaves to it. It tells them they’re doing a great job, and that their judgement and understanding are the final authority. Only a heart won over by pride dismisses a woman who makes a call about a young man in the community she thinks is a school shooter in the making.
“What does she know? She’s not a Sheriff!”
The dreadful shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School could have been prevented had it not been for BSO’s pattern of apathy. While they were doing what Sheriff Israel calls “amazing work,” the clock was running out on a time bomb–even as they heard it ticking. Now, in finger-pointing, grandstanding and squabbling, we see the pride that has infected the Sheriff’s heart and trickled down into the department under his leadership. Is it likely that Scott Israel did not deal personally with these repeated reports about the killer? Yes. Is it likely that he modeled a dismissive, prideful way of approaching work to those under him? Also yes. A leader of any organization is ultimately responsible for its actions.
Let this be a cautionary tale. Evil is pervasive in our society, and we can only effectively fight against it by being humble before God and each other.
Sheriff Israel is not the only person in whom the spirit of pride is alive and well. It plagues all of us, but as long as we collectively follow the Sheriff’s example, our country will never move forward in a healthy way. Let’s abandon self-importance, be quick to listen and slow to speak. Let’s just be humble.