August 6, 2019

An open letter from the UW School of Social Work Leadership Team regarding the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton

Today, the University of Washington School of Social Work stands with UW President Ana Mari Cauce and the entire university community in a place where we have too often stood before: voicing our collective grief and deepest condolences to the loved ones of those killed by mass shootings in our country. This time the shootings occurred in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend of August 3 and 4. The shooting in El Paso is all the more disturbing because it appears to have been a racially motivated, anti-immigrant attack fueled by hateful white supremacist ideology.

Outraged at the reality of men with high-powered weapons opening fire in our schools, synagogues, music concerts, bars and shopping malls—we stand with people from all walks of life in demanding leadership and action, not just thoughts and prayers. 

According to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, in 2019 the U.S. has averaged more than one mass shooting per day (defined as four or more individuals killed or wounded). Such incidents are often blamed on mental illness afflicting isolated individuals. But the evidence shows that only a tiny percentage of mass shootings are committed by people who have been diagnosed with or are in treatment for mental illness. Following last weekend’s tragedy, the American Psychological Association’s president issued a statement noting that the rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries do not experience these traumatic events with the frequency we do. “Inescapably, one critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes,” she writes. “Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”  

As former President Barack Obama said on Twitter yesterday morning, “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people. Such language isn’t new ... [but] it has no place in our politics and our public life. It’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much—clearly and unequivocally.”

As social workers, we care deeply about the individuals and communities we serve. We strongly support a call for evidence-supported solutions, such as common-sense restrictions on gun access along with strategic efforts to defeat disinformation campaigns and strengthen democratic discourse. This is no time for easy outs such as stigmatizing those with mental illness. We must look to ourselves and our leaders to end racially charged division and its tragic aftermath.