Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.


Crosses to honor the victims from last weeks shooting are seen at the memorial outside of Oxford High School on December 7, 2021 in Oxford, Michigan. Four students were killed and seven others injured on November 30, when student Ethan Crumbley allegedly opened fire with a pistol at the school.15-year-old Ethan Crumbley has been charged along with his parents James and Jennifer Crumbley who have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. (Photo:  Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

Can You Believe We Live in the United States of Mass Murder?

This latest massacre—this shattering of young lives, of collective trust and community—is one more revelation that something is profoundly wrong in the world's most powerful nation.

Robert C. Koehler

Four students dead, six more, plus a teacher, wounded. Can you believe—another mass shooting last week. This one north of Detroit, at Oxford High School. A 15-year-old boy—and his parents—were arrested.

We're not afraid to wage war; we're not afraid to kill. But we're afraid of change.

While the shock and collective horror are still fresh, before the news cycle moves on, a question resonates with every heartbeat. It's always the same one: Why? Why? Why?

Partial answers abound. Mostly, we keep them to ourselves. Nothing changes. The accused killer, Ethan Crumbley, has been charged as an adult for murder. . .and terrorism. So what? Should we call in drone strikes on Oakland County? Bureaucratic "justice" is not going to keep us safe, any more than endless war has kept us safe.

This latest massacre—this shattering of young lives, of collective trust and community—is one more revelation that something is profoundly wrong in the world's most powerful nation, that we aren't safe, that a deep social wound remains unaddressed. We are left on our own to ask "why?"

Why were Mom and Dad, who gave their boy a 9mm semiautomatic handgun as an early Christmas present (four days before the shooting), so absolutely clueless about his intention to use it, even though, as AP reported, the night before the shooting, he actually "records a video in which he discusses killing students."

Perhaps even more eerily, why, on the day of the shooting, did no one grasp that he had a gun with him, along with three 15-round magazines? That morning, a teacher found a note on his desk that was so alarming she sent him to the school counselor. He had drawn a picture of a handgun and a wounded guy bleeding and written: "The thoughts won't stop. Help me." He was in the counselor's office for an hour and a half; his parents were summoned. They were told he needed counseling. They were also asked to take him home. They refused. They went back to work and the boy—whose responses to his questioning had seemed calm and reasonable—went back to the classroom.

As I say, amid all this, his Christmas present gun (which had been kept unlocked in a drawer in his parents' bedroom) remained stashed and unseen, presumably in his backpack. Shortly before 1 p.m., he stepped out of the school bathroom and started firing in the hallway, killing and wounding his classmates.

He was arrested. Four days later, his parents, who fled and hid, were found and arrested. And the justice system took over, raising another enormous "why?" Why is the American sense of justice simply linear and bureaucratic? Why is priority number one, in the wake of such a crime—a crime against humanity—to charge, convict and punish, rather than heal, understand and change?

This is not a simple event, especially considering that mass shootings, indeed, violent acts of all sorts, happen with stunning regularity. Why, then, do we respond, in an official sense, so simplistically? Charging the 15-year-old as an adult, "expanding" the nature of his charge from murder to terrorism, may intensify the official condemnation of his actions and further isolate him from the rest of us as a bad, bad human being, but we all know that, socially speaking, it changes nothing. (A potential future mass murderer probably won't rethink what he's about to do because he could we charged with terrorism, not just murder.)

I note all this in the wake of the U.S. House passage of a $778 billion defense budget, signaling the government's annual acknowledgement that we kill our enemies and that's that. No further questions will be taken.

Rupert Ross, in his book Returning to the Teachings, examines indigenous approaches to justice around the world: "The purpose is healing, not punishment—a healing accomplished by the full range of people who were affected by the original event."

This is the core of Restorative Justice, something I have written about a great deal in my columns, and something I deeply believe in. When harm has been done, people affected by it sit in a circle with one another, in a state of vibrant equality. They talk, and mostly they listen. "One deeper intent," Ross writes, "is to help people see others as complex, many-sided and 'whole' creatures—not just as 'offenders' or 'victims.'"

This kind of listening—this reach for awareness and understanding—is the core of social evolution. Presently we're stuck with a bureaucratic judicial system that simplifies people and their actions and attempts to judge, and punish, them in isolation. No matter that everyone acts in social context—including mass murderers.

What I fear is that, socially speaking, we're afraid of change. We're not afraid to wage war; we're not afraid to kill. But we're afraid of change. Every time I hear a national leader speak of "keeping Americans safe," I feel overwhelmed by the irony in those words. Usually such words address some aspect of the endless war we're waging, and usually they evoke the Wild West of film and legend, America's deepest font of mythology, where justice, you know, comes from the barrel of a revolver, or nowadays, from the strike of a drone. Violence is violence.

Four students dead, six more, plus a teacher, wounded.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club.  He’s a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. Eschewing political labels, Koehler considers himself a “peace journalist. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999. Born in Detroit and raised in suburban Dearborn, Koehler has lived in Chicago since 1976. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College and has taught writing at both the college and high school levels. Koehler is a widower and single parent. He explores both conditions at great depth in his writing. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Supreme Court Says Biden Can End 'Shameful' Remain in Mexico Asylum Policy

"Now is the turn for Congress to get rid of Title 42, and provide a solution to the weakened asylum system in place, to provide a humane and fair alternative to vulnerable children, families, and individuals fleeing unsafe conditions and persecution."

Brett Wilkins ·

Democrats Lose Senate Majority as 82-Year-Old Leahy Heads for Hip Surgery

"It could be over for the Senate Dems now," said one policy expert in response. "This could mean they effectively lost their majority."

Jon Queally ·

Beijing Slams NATO for 'Maliciously... Smearing' China as a Security Threat

"Who's challenging global security and undermining world peace?" Chinese officials asked. "Are there any wars or conflicts over the years where NATO is not involved?"

Kenny Stancil ·

US Supreme Court Drops Carbon Bomb on the Planet

One Democratic senator warned the high court's right-wing majority "could unleash a new era of reckless deregulation that will gut protections for all Americans and the environment."

Jake Johnson ·

'Massive Betrayal': Biden Cuts Deal With McConnell to Nominate Anti-Abortion Judge

"At a time when we are fighting to protect human rights, this is a complete slap in the face."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo