After the massacre at Pulse nightclub, the nationwide opinion of the LGBTQ+ community shifted.
After the murder of George Floyd, the nation began to grapple with the unequal treatment of Black men.
After the Parkland shooting, schools implemented more mental health services.
And now, after foster children nearly killed Volusia County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families are aiming to overhaul their practices.
There are things we know are problems. We know that mental health services are severely lacking, both for children and adults. We know the system is overburdened and overwhelmed. We know we are failing to adequately address the mental health needs of our community.
We know all this — and nothing changes. The problems remain, simmering in the background, waiting for the inevitable moment when it all boils over.
Does it take murder for things to change? Are accessible tragedies the mechanism in modern society to induce compassion and the willingness to tackle our problems?
I think of the stories I’ve covered, of the murders and other crimes. I think about Jared Shaw, a schizophrenic homeless man, and Christine McCaleb, a schizophrenic homeless woman whom Shaw killed. I think about the fact that the only reason they were both there on that street in Downtown DeLand one foggy night in October 2019 is because the system failed them.
And I wonder — if Jared Shaw had hacked into the neck of someone else with a knife, would it have made a difference?
If murder had a public relations firm aiming to galvanize people into making lasting positive change, would Shaw have been the right kind of murderer? Would his story — spending years with the help of a loving family trying to connect with mental health services, with a dedicated caseworker, and consistently being denied — be good enough for the general public?
Certainly, the firm would insist on a different victim. Someone with a higher profile — perhaps a mayor, or business owner. Instead of the middle of the night, the murder must occur during the day. All those cars driving by, all those eyes watching, cellphones pulled out and videos started.
How could this happen, only blocks away from the center of a bustling town, people might ask. How could we let this happen? That could have been me.
Is that what it takes? Are we waiting for the right tragedy to fix a broken system? The right murder, the right victims, the right time?
And how many will suffer while we wait? How many pleas for help will go unanswered, how many families will struggle?
How many people exist, trapped in their own minds and circumstances, unable to find or afford help?
How many more crimes will be committed while we wait for the right one?
Admittedly, this is a dark line of questioning. But it’s not even my darkest thought.
If any of this is true, at the end there’s only one question: How much longer until the wait is over?