Faith, Courage, and Love In Panama City

It’s the video that riveted the nation this morning: a big man with a gun walks into a meeting of the Panama City, Florida school board.  His name is Clay Duke, and he says he’s angry because his wife lost her job with the district.  He orders the women to leave, and paints a symbol of anarchy on the wall.  He’s got a history of psychotic behavior, and did prison time for a gun crime in 1999.  His pockets are stuffed with extra ammo.  Everyone knows what’s going to happen next.

But what happens next is astonishing.

School superintendant Bill Husfelt tells Duke the responsibility for firing Duke’s wife would be his alone, and calmly asks him to let the other board members leave, knowing full well that he’s signing his own death warrant.  His request is refused.  He knows Duke is hoping to commit “suicide by cop,” and tries to talk him out of it, to no avail.

Ginger Littleton, one of the women who was previously sent out of the room, races back in and tries to get the gun away from the much larger Duke.  He knocks her to the ground, calls her a “stupid bitch,” and points the gun at her… but he doesn’t shoot.

Instead, he turns the gun back at the male board members, and opens fire from a distance of eight feet, targeting men seated in chairs.

He misses.

Mike Jones, chief of security for the school system, races in and takes the crazed gunman down with his own weapon.  Duke finishes himself off.  Jones ends up in the arms of his friends and colleagues, sobbing that he never shot anyone before.

What drove Clay Duke into that board room with a gun?  He was a psychopath, marinated in a thick stew of class-warfare rhetoric.  His Facebook page lists his political affiliation as “Freedom Fighter.”  The people who write for his favorite web pages are no more responsible for his behavior than Alan Moore, the comic-book author who created the “V” symbol he painted on the wall, or actor Jack Nicholson, who delivered what Duke called his favorite movie quote.  The quality of our discourse is not improved by subjecting it to the criticism of madmen.

There’s not much more to say about Clay Duke, but there is plenty to say about the faith, courage, and love shown by the heroic actions of Husfelt, Littleton, and Jones.  Back in April, I named Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, the homeless man who died defending a woman from a mugger, as a “Champion of the Light.”  Here are three more.  Husfelt tried to lay down his own life for others, and pleaded for the life and soul of his would-be murderer.  Littleton had three daughters waiting for her back home, but she ran back into that committee room and tried to disarm a man twice her size.  Unlike the shooter he took down, Jones never wanted to hurt anyone… and unlike the shooter, he didn’t miss.

“The good Lord was standing in front of me,” Husfelt says.  The video doesn’t look like a divine event.  It’s shocking because of its banality.  It’s like every public-access program you’ve ever buzzed past while channel surfing, and when the big guy starts shooting, his weapon looks like a cap gun.  Other people in the building, watching the meeting on closed-circuit TV, have said it took them a while to realize it wasn’t some kind of drill.

Don’t let the mundane tone of the video fool you.  What happened in that room was luminous.  If I’m ever called upon to defend the human race from judgment, this will be among the evidence I offer.  I don’t know if I’d have the inner peace to speak with Bill Husfelt’s voice, the self-control to aim as true as Mike Jones, or the incredible courage to do what Ginger Littleton did… but I will warm myself throughout this holiday season with the knowledge that such people are my brothers and sisters.  They gave us all a priceless gift of bravery, belief, and sacrifice to cherish this Christmas.

Sometimes when light meets darkness, the battle ends with the death of innocents.  Not this time, thanks to everyone who was in that courtroom.