The WalkUp idea started with Ryan Petty a father of one of Cruz’s victims. At a press conference he encouraged students to walk up to 14 students and 3 adults and say something nice, and get to know them, instead of walking out of school for seventeen minutes. During that Press conference he also implored state legislators to do three, things all of which echoed the sentiments of the WalkOut protestors. Enhance safety and security of schools. Second, keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk to themselves or others. Finally state leaders must improve mental health resources for at risk youth. These are the very things that many students wrote a letter to congressmen requesting during the seventeen minutes they walked out of their school in solidarity with their peers across the country.
Take the time to read up on the accounts of Nikolas Cruz. This isn’t a story of a bullied kid handing out unmitigated retribution on his tormentors and the silent bystanders. This was a kid described as having developmental issues, and impulse control issues. Students who had tried to strike up conversations reported that he only talked about guns knives and hunting. He was known for posting videos and pictures on social media of him killing animals. The behavioral issues that led to his expulsion included threatening other students and a teacher. Not a teacher who was disciplining him but trying to help him. There was such a concern about his mental state and the threat he posed that he wasn’t even allowed to bring a backpack to school.
He wasn’t a loner because he was weird or different. He was a loner because he was dangerous. Even the most accepting of us would think twice about engaging someone like that. So why are telling kids the best response to this latest school shooting is to #walkup? Even still, at his request, Nikolas and his brother moved in with a friend’s family back in November. Clearly this was a kid who was no stranger to the kindness and generosity of others. Another student interviewed after the shooting said they had been close friends until Nikolas started going after and threatening another of his friends. WalkUp has all the feels of being an anti-bully movement, which has tremendous merit when it’s not being used to redirect civil protest and become little more than victim blaming. Under these circumstances it neglects to see that Nikolas Cruz appears to be the bully long before he became a mass murderer.
I grieve for the obvious brokenness of Nikolas. Surely he was ill-equipped to navigate the loss of both his parents by the age of 18. I simply see no link to justify an anti-bullying be nice movement in response to this because that wasn’t the issue. Especially when so many adults have resorted to bullying tactics in response to the very students who have spoken out after surviving this incident. Students that knew how dangerous he was. Some of whom notified the proper authorities when he posted that he wants to be a “professional school shooter” and nothing was done. I fear WalkUp has become just another example of adults thinking they know best and not listening to young people, particularly those who were there.
Again Cruz found pleasure in torturing and killing animals, which is a clear indicator that his lack of empathy was the issue, not his peers. The same day students were protesting demanding legislative action in the same three areas Mr. Petty spoke of, the WOOFF Act was introduced on the Senate floor in response to a dog dying in an overhead bin of a plane. It was 48 hours after the incident. Next April will be twenty years since Columbine.
I’m all for people loving one another. The core sentiments and principles of “WalkUp” are things I have practiced and preached specifically to youth in seventeen years of student ministry. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand why loving one another is linked to the greatest commandment of loving God. However, extending the hand of friendship and gestures of gratitude will not change the fact that the mentally ill and unstable (an individual who is well short of responsible), can #walkup to a gun retailer and #walkout with a gun.