Like many of you, I spent the week humbled and awed by Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Center in an Atlanta suburb who most likely averted another heartbreaking school shooting by talking a gun-wielding young man with a mental illness into giving himself up to the police. It’s impossible to listen to the 911 tape of Tuff’s lengthy discussion with Michael Hill—who burst into her office dressed in black, carrying an AK-47 with 500 rounds of ammunition—without suspecting that her stunning calm, compassion, and control is something absolutely nobody else could have achieved under similar circumstances.
I am well-aware of the journalistic-slash-moral-slash-legal imperative not to “politicize” any school shooting, whether it actually occurs or is averted. It is always “too soon” to have that policy conversation about how better gun control, better mental health care, and other political measures might have averted the latest mass shooting. And then it is always too late by the time the next one has occurred. But listening to Tuff persuade a young man that he should put down his AK-47 and all his ammunition, lie down on the floor, and turn himself into the police, suggests that maybe it’s not too soon to politicize empathy.