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A Harsh Message For A Grim Topic



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Was the primary message of violence prevention awareness in the Public Service Announcement (PSA) released by Sandy Hook Promise on September 18 occluded by the visual effects? Previous PSAs by this group, founded by some of the families directly affected by the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, have more directly pointed to the subtle signals given off by potential attackers.

“Back To School Essentials,” the new Sandy Hook Promise PSA, is a distressing look at the sense of school safety — or lack of it. The response locally and nationwide has been mixed, with some viewers (warned that the PSA contains “graphic content related to school shootings…” and will be disturbing to some) finding the message an aching reminder of our local tragedy and far too brutally honest for the message it carries; others finding its message vital to moving forward better legislation around mental health and gun violence.

Various media agencies immediately picked up on the explicit aspects of the video, emphasizing the trauma that could be magnified should it be viewed by those already suffering from the repercussions of school violence. The Newtown Bee did report on the release of this newest PSA from our local grassroots organization. Our focus, while noting that the video is prefaced with cautionary wording, was on the creators’ intentions: that of the need for visually impactful messages to inspire the public to work at preventing horrors such as the one experienced on 12/14. Sandy Hook Promise cofounder and father of a child murdered at Sandy Hook School, Mark Barden, emphasized to our paper the importance of recognizing signs of a person in crisis and what can be done to intervene. The organization’s Know The Signs and Start With Hello programs stress awareness, and Sandy Hook Promise professes that lives have been saved through the utilization of information in their programs. The PSAs released to date are intended to help understand motivations behind horrific actions and how they may present.

Seeking those tips, however, in “Back To School Essentials” is a challenge, even more so than in “Evan” and “Point of View,” the previous PSAs. Placement at the top of the Sandy Hook Promise home page of information on actions leading to safer school and public environments, rather than that of the new PSA and need to scroll down for information, would convey the message more readily. Public service must be just that: a service to the public.

Those who choose to watch “Back To School Essentials” will experience powerful emotions. Putting those emotions into perspective and taking action to ensure that school returns to a positive learning space rather than one that harbors uncertainty can only happen when it is acknowledged that a turnabout to our culture of accepting violence as the norm rests on legislative actions that respond to public demands.

We dream that one day lockdowns, bullet proof backpacks, educational tools viewed as potential weapons, and social isolation will be historical footnotes. Watch or do not watch Sandy Hook Promise PSAs; but know the signs.

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