How embarrassing it was this week for a flotilla of government officials and assorted advocates to find out that in their zeal to do the right thing for victims of the Aurora theater massacre, they were doing just the opposite. Time’s up to feel bad or defensive. Now it’s time to get it right.
We applaud the courageous July 20 shooting victims and their families for taking the media spotlight to point out that the immense generosity of sympathizers is being bottle-necked in what seems to be unintended bureaucracy. More than $5 million has been donated so far; only about $500,000 has been distributed so far.
The problem is, there are no rules when it comes to how to divvy up millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of generous donors to hundreds of victims of a massacre.
The situation calls for change. The reality, however, is that there will be no perfect solution to the myriad issues. As the victims, their families and those who are trying to help them go forward, everyone will benefit by keeping that in mind. While those involved simply have no choice but to pretty much make this up as they go along, these guidelines would serve everyone well:
• The money donated to this fund should all go directly to victims and their families, and victims should be clearly defined as those at the theater and in Holmes’ apartment building at the time of the melee. Here’s why: Despite the important and appreciated work of Aurora’s non-profit agencies, there is no doubt that almost everyone writing a check for these victims never intended for it to go to an agency. While agencies taxed by the sheer volume of victims should rightfully be helped out by state or other grants and programs, the money donated to the Community First fund should all go directly to victims and their families.
• Time is critical. If this distribution process moves at the speed of government, these victims are only being hurt again. The bulk of the work should not and cannot take more than two weeks. If that seems undoable to those organizing this distribution effort, find someone who understands how imperative the timing is.
• Victims themselves should not be directly involved in the distribution process. This will keep the process above the appearance of impropriety, and it will keep from pitting victims against each other. However, it makes sense to categorize victims three ways: the dead and their families; the physically maimed and their families, and the mentally injured and their families. Each of these groups should have an appointed representative in the process whose job it is to be the guardian of their group’s interests.
• Every detail of this process should be transparent by ensuring that all documents, communications and meetings are open to the public, the press and the victims. Anything less is a disaster in the making.
• This is not a court-associated compensatory process. This is not an effort to make these victims and their families whole. As Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the theater, eloquently said at the victims’ press conference, “We’ve already lost everything.” Rather, this is an effort to find the best and fastest way possible to disburse the generosity of endless Americans to provide whatever help these victims feel they need.
• This process should not prejudge or determine how best to help these victims heal. If the young cyclist shot in the neck decides that a new bike is more therapeutic to him than would be a few months of psychotherapy, then get that guy a bike. Donors gave this money freely and without judgment as to how victims might spend it. That sentiment needs to guide this process. That means some kind of equal distribution is in order, probably encompassing the bulk of the money.
Continued efforts to worry too much about how best to get this right, will only serve to make it likely that it’ll be all wrong.