June 16, 2024

One remarkable aspect of the coverage of the Uvalde shooting is how quickly the narrative has gone from one of praising police heroics to one of exposing complete, total, and shameful failure on the part of the law enforcement agents. Simultaneously, the excuses made by police apologists have repeatedly changed as well. 

Among these excuses has been the claim that the Uvalde police were just a small-town force, and that with better funding—they always call for more funding—then police won’t make these “mistakes.” It is also claimed that larger, state and federal police personnel would never have the same problems.

Thanks to the report released this week by the Texas Department of public safety, we now know that a majority of law enforcement officers at the Uvalde massacre were from state and federal agencies, and the total number of law enforcement personnel numbered a remarkable 376 officers. Yet, even as these “first responders” continued to amass personnel and equipment, they chose to prioritize officer safety over the safety of children. 

Clearly, the excuses offered about an “underfunded” and undersized local police force hold no water. The presence of dozens of well-armed state troopers and federal officers did not lead to immediate action against a single untrained gunman. This was a systemwide failure of law enforcement. Yet, unfortunately, the narrative over the behavior of law enforcement at Uvalde has zeroed in making excuses based on the idea it’s all entirely the fault of a small number of local officials. 

Nearly 400 Law Enforcement Officers at Uvalde

This was no matter of a small police force being overwhelmed by events. According to the Texas Tribune, the state’s report on Uvalde: 

reveals for the first time that the overwhelming majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement: 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, and 91 were state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks in public places.” There were 25 Uvalde police officers and 16 sheriff’s deputies. [School district police chief Pete] Arredondo’s school police force accounted for five of the officers on the scene. The rest of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. marshals and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.

In total, 376 law enforcement officers were at the scene. 

Not all of these officers were present from early on in the incident. But within minutes, armed police officers showed up and choose to not take action against the gunman. Soon, more weapons, and protective hear arrived. And police still chose to do nothing. As victims bled to death in the classroom with the gunman, dozens of federal, state, and local personnel were standing around in a grim “comedy” of errors. No one took responsibility or took action for more than an hour. By far, the most enthusiastic action from police could be witnessed in how officers harassed, attacked, cuffed and generally mistreated the parents of dying children at the scene. 

So, let’s dispense with the claims that the reason the police stood around in Uvalde was because this was a police force of country bumpkins who “lacked training.” It took the presence of nearly 300 state and federal officers before officers on the scene chose to take action—more than an hour later. This was against a single untrained gunman with a weapon no more powerful than what the police themselves possessed. 

Excuses and Lies 

Nonetheless, the fact that any police agency is being criticized at all in this case is a sign of just how complete and obvious the failure was. From the beginning, the story was crafted to portray all police personnel at the scene as heroes.

Early media reports on the event contain variations of all the usual stock phrases used to describe law enforcement. A May 25 New York Post article tells the story the police agencies would no doubt like to be the official version. The Post reports:

Risking their own lives, these Border Patrol Agents and other officers put themselves between the shooter and children on the scene to draw the shooter’s attention away from potential victims and save lives….

An off-duty Customs and Border Protection agent from an elite tactical unit is the hero who shot and killed the Robb Elementary School gunman before he could continue his massacre, reports said Wednesday. 

The agent, a member of CBP’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), rushed into the school while the shooter was still active and began exchanging rounds with the gunman, who was barricaded inside a fourth-grade classroom, NBC and Fox reported. 

This was all a fabrication, unless on considers engaging the shooter after more than an hour a matter of “rushing” into the school.

Fox News commentators pushed knee-jerk support for the police at Uvalde, with pundit Tom Homan announcing:

These men and women are America’s heroes….These men and women are working overtime, 24/7, biggest crisis ever seen. But when they were needed, they didn’t hesitate to go to that school and face the gunfire.

Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott also followed the usual GOP playbook in immediately praising the “quick response” of “valiant police officials.”

All of this was based solely on the propaganda efforts of police agencies and local Uvalde officials such as Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin who continues to praise his own administration and the local police response.

The man supposedly in charge of the Uvalde response, school district police chief Pete Arredondo, continues to make excuses and straight-up lie about the situation. Consider this version of reality coming out of Arredondo and spokesman, as reported by the Texas Tribune:

“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo said. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”

[George E.] Hyde, Arredondo’s lawyer, said those criticisms don’t reflect the realities police face when they’re under fire and trying to save lives. Uvalde is a small working-class city of about 15,000 west of San Antonio. Its small band of school police officers doesn’t have the staffing, equipment, training, or experience with mass violence that larger cities might.

“His client ran straight toward danger armed with 29 years of law enforcement experience and a Glock 22 handgun. With no body armor and no second thoughts, the chief committed to stop the shooter or die trying.”

This is a fantasy. Naturally, Arredondo also claimed that any shortcomings in the response was due to loo little taxpayer money being handed over to the department. Moreover, we know that state and federal personnel did arrive, presumably with the training and experience they might gain from what Hyde claims comes from law enforcement in “larger cities.” That apparently made little difference. 

In any case, no police officers are facing any sort of discipline or accountability outside of a handful of local police officers. Chief Arredondo still has his job with the school district and is on paid leave. No state or federal law enforcement officer has faced any sort of discipline or accountability at all.

In spite of the usual efforts to immediately lionize police, the failure at Uvalde was so complete that it’s become impossible to deny that someone screwed up big time. Unfortunately, however, the new narrative is one in which this has nothing to do with any systematic problem, but is merely a very limited and localized problem specific to some small-town people who “lacked funding” or needed “better training.” This doesn’t explain why ninety-one state troopers didn’t manage to improve the situation. 

Governments will make every effort to sweep this problem under the rug by making it out to be something that has nothing to do with state or federal law enforcement. We shouldn’t let them off the hook.