By Kate Abbey-Lambertz and Nina Ignaczak, Detour editors
When Detour published our Thursday newsletter with coverage of last week’s school shooting in Oxford, we asked how our readers were feeling. A few reached out to share what they were grappling with and their perspectives on our coverage, with criticisms that gave us food for thought. In the fast-moving media biz — and especially in the slower world of newsletters — we still think it’s important to reflect, revise, share additional context and understand reader perspectives so we can serve you better this time and the next.
Reader Jay C., a former Oxford High School graduate, said that while no one from his family is a current attendee, he knows people “affected, injured or killed in the community.”
“It’s been super surreal and upsetting,” he wrote. “[I’m] just thinking about how Oxford will be changed for a very long time.”
“How am I feeling? Pretty hopeless,” said reader Joe L. He disagreed with the decision to charge alleged shooter Ethan Crumbley as an adult, because “he’s a child, and he’s not entirely to blame for getting hands on weapons.” He suggested that ammunition should be restricted or taxed to curb use, but doesn’t have much hope about regulations improving safety.
“The Supreme Court has prevented sensible gun legislation; I think they and our legislators at every level are complicit in gun deaths through inaction or through wilfully misreading the Constitution,” he wrote. “So many school shootings — from Columbine to today — and so little response from those who could and should protect the public!”
Reader Marcus L. strongly objected to a line in our coverage that described mass shootings at schools as “incredibly rare,” calling the characterization “outrageously insensitive and inaccurate.”
Though we meant that the chance of a child being killed in a mass school shooting is statistically rare — researchers estimate a one in 939,000 chance of a child being killed in a school shooting anytime during their 13.6-year K-12 career — we agree that it’s not the full story. And we agree that even the most minute likelihood of a student getting shot at school is tragic, unacceptable and terrifying for parents and kids (and teachers, and…).
More to the point, Marcus is right that it’s more common than we implied.
According to the Washington Post, there have been 304 school shootings in the United States since 1999. More than 278,000 American children have been in attendance at a school that had a shooting over that time period. That is certainly not rare.
And the time intervals between school shootings have been getting shorter since the ‘90s. We all got a break during the pandemic (maybe the only small silver lining this mom can think of), but in the years between 2015-2018, we had a school shooting every 77 calendar days, up from 133 days between 2007-2014.
Anything that threatens children is terrifying to a parent, and the only way many of us can fathom sending them to school after these shootings is by hiding behind the stats — the remoteness of the chance that something could happen to our kid. So we hold on to that ever-so-convenient comparison of the likelihood of our child being killed in a motor vehicle accident (2,400 times greater than being killed in a school shooting). It’s cold comfort, and we regret any inaccuracy or insensitivity we may have conveyed.
Longtime reader Joe M. had another perspective, questioning the choice to dedicate so much of our limited space in a newsletter for Detroiters to an event that occurred 40-plus miles away.
Specifically, he juxtaposed the coverage with the “HUNDREDS of shootings that regularly, predictably shatter lives and neighborhoods here in Detroit [and] NEVER get covered” by Detour.
“Obviously, if we continue to focus on wackjob school shootings in the far suburbs, we can conveniently pretend that we have our own house in order here,” he wrote. “No one will notice, but it is a gross disservice to the community to feign outrage at what happens in Oxford while turning a blind eye — for years now — to the slaughter here in Detroit.”
As an outlet that has aimed to prioritize Detroiters’ information needs first and foremost, we understand the sentiment. But we believe that this horrific shooting affects our region as a whole, and we’ll continue to cover it — including responses that impact children in Detroit.
Still, it’s true that we rarely focus on violent crimes in the city.
Detroit had one of the highest rates of violent crimes among large U.S. cities last year, according to analyses of FBI crime reporting data. A poll conducted this summer suggests Detroiters are overwhelmingly concerned about public safety and the threat of violence and want more cops on the street. Shortly before that poll was published, Detroit saw a week with five shootings of children, with five injured and two killed.
In one of those incidents, a 12-year-old was allegedly killed by another child with a gun that was left loaded and unsecured in the home, underscoring the urgent and ongoing need for more gun safety efforts. In the last week, Democratic state lawmakers have renewed efforts to push gun control bills, including storage requirements for guns that are accessible to minors.
We’ve shared some of those facts before and have never aimed to paint a distorted, too rosy picture of Detroit, nor minimize the devastation that violent crime and its perpetrators inflict on victims and their communities. We can and should give more scrutiny to the how, why and aftermath of violence in the city.
As an outlet, however, we agree with those in our industry who argue that traditional crime reporting is fundamentally flawed and can cause concrete harm. To that end, we’ve prioritized reporting on impacts of the criminal justice system and the myriad ways power structures fail Detroiters, from health to housing.
We don’t always get it right, but we’ll always try to do more, and better. Thanks to the Detour readers who keep us accountable. Share your thoughts or tell us what we should be covering by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.