DR. MARK PORTERIE — Port Arthur educator frustrated with state of violence

Published 12:05 am Saturday, June 4, 2022

On behalf of the Port Arthur Independent School District’s Board of Trustees, staff, students and parents, we would like to thank our entire community for your support during the 2021-22 school year.

Because of your support, we were able to address the needs of each child in our district and culminate our year on Friday/May 27 with a graduation ceremony that honored over 400 students for their hard work and dedication.

With all of the celebrations throughout the month of May, there still were tears of sadness. On Tuesday/May 24, the week where most students and teachers typically prepare to end the school year with high fives, good grades and fun activities, an 18-year-old made the decision to enter a school and take the lives of 19 young students and two dedicated teachers.

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Unfortunately, this is not the first occurrence. We are all familiar with Sandy Hook Elementary, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Oxford High School, Santa Fe High School, Columbine High School and now we add Robb Elementary School to the list. The reality is this may not be the last school added to the roster upon which no campus wants to be listed.

As I listened to reporters interview city, state and national leaders, one recurring chant from all of the crowds gathered seemed to sound out the loudest: “Do something!” How many more of our innocent young children, hard-working educators, someone simply shopping for groceries, kids attending a birthday party, patrons eating in a restaurant or just sitting in a movie theatre, how many more people have to die before those that we look at to lead us actually do something?

I understand we have a second amendment right that gives people permission to keep and bear arms and not be infringed. However, what I don’t understand is when the rights of some begin to infringe on the rights of other innocent people, why can we not address this issue?

I also understand that people kill people; that guns, by themselves, do not kill people. But when a society has gotten to the point that people of all ages are able to legally — or illegally — obtain firearms, and some of these people are taking the lives of more innocent people than any other country in the world, do we not think that we have to do something?

In order for me to stay sane, I have to believe that the dead bodies of those 21 innocent children and women in Uvalde, Texas, have to mean something to both sides of the political spectrum.

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, or however you identify yourself, we are all human beings. The current pattern of killing, followed by hopeless expressions of condolences, has to change. In order to bring about change for our future, we all have to do something.

My personal opinion is that no regular citizen needs to own an AR-15 rifle, or any type of weapon with that caliber of destruction, without going through extremely thorough physical and mental assessments. It is critical to determine if people are mature enough and responsible enough before allowing them to arm themselves with these types of weapons.

In our current society, an 18-year-old cannot buy alcohol, obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or rent a car. Yet, some can and do equip themselves to such an extent that they are able to achieve a standoff with a large contingent of police officers who may not possess the same degree of military weaponry and ammunition accessible to a teenage gunman.

The United States of America is one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. I refuse to believe we cannot come up with a solution that will prevent innocent people from being killed – or stop people from killing themselves – with firearms or other lethal weapons.

If a person feels the need to use a firearm for any reason, I strongly suggest they join the military and use an arsenal of weapons to defend civil liberties. Our country is better than what we have allowed it to become.

Racial tension, storming the Capital walls, senseless killings in homes, churches, stores and schools – not just in the streets, the inability to disagree without adding to a body count, and just plain old disrespect for human rights have become the norm in America.

Is that the kind of country in which we want our children to have to struggle to survive in future years? Is this the best we’ve got? I certainly hope not.

I am a proud American, a proud Texan and a proud citizen of Port Arthur. I am asking that each one of us would come together to stand for what is right. No matter your color, religion or political affiliation, we should agree that life means more than getting everything you want, when you want it, without having to work for it.

We need to accept the fact that sometimes “no” emphatically means “no,” and you will be okay living with a “no” every now and then. The lives of Uvalde’s 21 innocent people, and those before and after them, mean more than not doing anything at all.

It’s unfathomable that, according to one of CNN’s recent news reports, there have been 17 more mass shootings since May 24 – and counting.

I cannot imagine how it must feel to have a child taken from me because someone was so angry that they decided they wanted to shoot up a school and intentionally kill people in the process. I realize we are dealing with a great deal of mental illness in America, with many cases still undiagnosed. However, every criminal is not mentally ill.

There are some people that are just plain evil. We know a lot of students and adults with serious anger issues, depression and personalities that can go from one extreme to the other in less than ten seconds. Some people literally have no remorse, empathy or concern for themselves or others.

And we see it in people of all ages. But a parent should be the first to notice something is not quite right if they see a child is often angry, destructive, hot-tempered, violent and disrespectful to authority.

Educators will notice and communicate such to parents but educators cannot force parents to get mental or psychological help for their children. It is heartbreaking to know some people cannot emotionally feel anything at all. We cannot allow mental illness to become a crutch for every evil that takes place in this world. It is up to each one of us to share our voice and demand that our leaders do something to make a change immediately.

I wonder, what would happen if any of the young victims at Robb Elementary were the children of some of our leaders in this state? Would any laws change sooner?

I certainly hope that not another innocent life is taken before a law is enacted that changes the trajectory of where the United States of America is heading.

Being a proactive parent is critical. If you feel, know or think something is not quite right with your child, reach out for help until you get your child the help that he or she needs. Taking care of your children’s mental health is just as important as – and in some cases even more important than – taking care of their physical health.

Voting in local, state and national elections are crucial. Contacting the people in the legislature that are elected with the intent of representing how their constituents feel is of the utmost importance in Texas and across the country.

Bombarding them with phone calls, emails and social media post tags and hashtags should get their attention so they can listen to us and take seriously what our needs are now. We are tired of history repeating itself, and there is too much at stake for us to remain silent or passive any longer.

We must use our voices and our fingertips to call lawmakers out and urge them to move forward in a different direction than what we have witnessed in the past. We have to hold our elected officials and some parents accountable for their decisions and actions because We The People are the ones who will continue to suffer if the wrong call is made.

Dr. Mark Porterie is superintendent of schools for the Port Arthur Independent School District. He can be reached at mporterie@paisd.org.