Second, third… and 30th chances
The puzzling reluctance of authorities to do anything about the multiple reports concerning Cruz directly contributed to the carnage at Stoneman Douglas. According to Perry this may be due to a program called PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports & Education).
After the December 2012 carnage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the Obama administration quickly moved to deploy more police in schools, allocating $44 million in grants for the effort. However, the measure was criticized by civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Justice Policy Institute, which argued that putting school discipline in hands of police would disproportionately target minority students and set them up for a life of crime.
Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came up with a solution: create a program that would replace discipline with counseling, and pay the police to stop arresting students for infractions. Broward County implemented the new program, called PROMISE. Though the county had 1,062 school-related arrests in 2011-12, by the 2015-16 school year that number had been reduced by 63 percent, thanks to PROMISE.
“We have to measure the success of the Broward Sheriff’s office by the kids we keep out of jail, not by the kids we put in jail,” Sheriff Israel said at a 2015 event. “We have to give our children second chances and third chances.
In the February 25 CNN interview, Sheriff Israel continued to defend the program.
“It’s helping many, many people,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “What this program does is not put a person at 14, 15, 16 years old into the criminal justice system.”
“What if he should be in the criminal justice system?” Tapper replied, pointing out the case of Cruz.
The intent of the program was certainly noble: to reduce the numbers of students falling afoul of the law, particularly the minorities, and change the culture from the old policy of “zero tolerance” that would have landed a student in jail for something like drawing a picture of a gun.
What seems to have happened in practice, however, was a situation in which the government was threatening to withhold funds from schools unless they were silent about theft, violence, threats, and even assaults on teachers. In the end, despite the reduction in overall arrests, the percentage of black students arrested was still disproportionately high compared to whites, according to Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie.
Between Nikolas Cruz’s yet-unexplained rage, the FBI’s mistakes, Sheriff Israel’s “amazing leadership” and an Obama-era policy that may have had the best of intentions but worked out far differently in practice, 17 lives were cut short and many more were changed forever.
The shooting quickly sank into the swamp of US partisan politics, with Republicans rejecting any talk of gun control and pointing at system failures, and Democrats seeking to campaign on gun control in the upcoming November midterms ‒ with the help of at least one Stoneman Douglas student.