Critique of “Evan,” the Sandy Hook Promise PSA

Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit formed after the terrible Sandy Hook Massacre that is dedicated to preventing gun violence, recently funded a video title “Evan.”  The video encourages viewers to try to prevent gun violence by “looking for signs.”  It follows a romantic short story of the boy-meets-girl type, but each scene stages a boy in the background who is plotting mass violence.

I also believe that violence can be prevented, but I think that this video, although well-intended, is largely misguided.  The video implies that we should all be on the lookout for that one person who might be scheming to do something hurtful to lots of people.  It doesn’t even give any guidance as to how to spot that person; instead, it’s more akin to a horror film, telling you that the killer could be right behind you at any moment.  This video mainly succeeds  in perpetuating the idea that someone with a violent mind is possibly lurking in the corner somewhere. It encourages us to be aware, fearful, and always on guard.

But the reality is that a person with violent potential could be much closer to you – a real person who is somebody’s friend, somebody’s student, somebody’s neighbor.  And furthermore, a person who acts violently might not necessarily be carefully plotting out a scheme over the course of several days; many acts of violence are not premeditated.  What this video does succeed in doing is casting feelings of guilt and fear to the general public – that we must constantly be vigilant for even the slightest clues or we’ve failed our part in preventing a mass tragedy.  This is a message that is far less helpful than it can be.

It’s unreasonable for me to expect you to catch the character in the background, but it is reasonable for me to expect you to notice disturbing behavior of a friend or your mailman or you student.  I think that’s a far more reasonable expectation for everyone, and it encourages kindness and compassion instead of fear and scrutiny.  The truth is that anyone can act out at any time.  It’s our responsibility, as humans, to show compassion and concern for those who we interact with on a daily basis.  It’s the casual dismissive attitude that we often adopt that is responsible for letting people go down a dark path – even those closest to us.  I don’t believe we need to live in fear if everyone would extend some love and paid attention to the people with whom they have actual (and potentially more meaningful) interactions.

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