Time to stop the violence of convenience

Many of you know I used to be a newspaper columnist in Northern Los Angeles County. I wrote about random things and issues that affected my community. Sometimes I polled my colleagues in the newsroom for materials, like for this one that contrasted our attitudes with a current news story …….

 

“Damn it! If that kid leaves the garage door open one more time, I’m taking away his keys.”

“There was a girl crouched beneath a desk in the library and the guy came over and said ‘Peek a boo’ and shot her.”

“That drama teacher is so hard on them. She kept them late again.”

As students took a math test, the door opened and a teacher staggered in, covered in blood. He was shot right in front of them.

“Why can’t you be more responsible? Pick up your room. Do I look like your maid?”

“He was shot twice. In the back. My brother jumped over him to get out.”

“I’m not going to make my child wear a uniform. That stifles their creative expression.”

“You should be safe at school. This should be a safe place.”

“No, I’m not getting up to give you a ride to school. You should have set your alarm.”

“We were just sitting in the room, praying. Some people were crying. We were thinking, ‘We’re in here, come rescue us.’ I heard a boy cry, ‘Please, don’t shoot me,” then another voice and a gunshot.”

“I’m too busy to come to your game. Can you get a ride home with somebody on the team?”

“Our teacher was so awesome. She helped us so much, she kept such a cool head, even though she was going through the same thing. Her husband was a teacher in the next room and she couldn’t get to him.”

“I just don’t understand your friends. They dress so weird.”

“He put a gun in my face and said ‘I’m doing this because people made fun of me last year.’”

“Don’t bother me now. I’m watching my show.”

“Her name is not on any list. They don’t know where she is.”

“Where do you think the money is going to come from? Get a job!”

A sign held up in a window read: Help. I’m bleeding to death.

“I’ve told you time and time again, the dishes are your responsibility. I’m sick of having to play cop.”

“My sister. He went back to get my sister.”

“If you were where you were supposed to be and doing what you were supposed to, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I thought it was a prank for morning announcements. But when I saw how big the gun was, then I knew. I know it had to be real.”

“How many times have I told you, my messages are important. And is that phone permanently attached to your ear?”

“Somebody yelled, ‘Everybody in the room leave now.’ We thought it was a fire.”

“I’ve been through more bomb drills than fire drills. We’ve all been taught to get down and stay down, because it there’s bombs, there might be guns.”

“They were just like ‘We’ve waited to do this our whole lives.’ And every time they’d shoot someone, they’d holler, like it was exciting.”

“We have 2,500 students here at this school. Counselors can’t spend very much time with each one.”

“I wrote goodbye notes to my parents, my sister and my little brother, because I left before he got up… ‘I hope I haven’t taken your love for granted … I’m glad I was the one to go through this and not you … I love you. I hope every time you hear this, it grows in meaning.’”

“We hardly ever see each other anymore, with our crazy schedules. It’s a big deal for us to sit down to dinner together.”

“It still hasn’t sunk in. We hear Columbine High School and I think, “Whoo, hey, I go here.’ I remember thinking, ‘I’m so glad I’m safe here.’”

Bye, honey, I love you. Have a good day at school.

 

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Anguished parents reunite with their students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida after a gunman killed 17 on campus. Image: CNN

When I wrote the column above, which was published in The Signal newspaper in April 1999, my message was one of perspective. Did we appreciate our kids? Did we ever consider what our last words to them might be? Could we even wrap our heads around the concept of school shootings? Columbine, in all its horror, introduced a reality that we swore we’d never accept.

 

Oh, how wrong we were.

 

Yesterday, 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Teachers. Coaches. Students who will never grow up and achieve greatness because a disgruntled 19-year-old student was able to walk into a gun store and purchase an AR-15 assault rifle, then revisit his former campus and fulfill a prophecy he promoted on social media.

 

Florida law does not allow 19-year-olds to buy beer. They can, however, purchase murder weapons with no problem.

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This is the AR-15 weapon used by the suspect in the Parkland, FL school shooting. It was purchased with the same ease as one would buy a soda and candy bar. Image: Time.com

There were warning signs with the suspect. We preach “See something, say something,” but when are we going to take it further than lip service? We know that shootings – not just in schools, but churches, movie theaters and concert venues – are a problem, but what are we doing about it? Now, there are 17 shattered families planning funerals because there is a large group of people who value the right to own firearms more than the rights of human beings to live. (To learn more about the victims of the Parkland shootings, visit http://amp.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/broward/article200220844.html)

 

My hope is that this blog gets at least 24 hours of airtime before there is another incident like this one.

 

Eighteen years ago, I was trying to make us think twice about how we treat each other. Today, I have the same motive, but the ennui makes me sick to my stomach. That column should have been a standalone, an unusual situation that happened once in a blue moon, but yesterday’s shooting was the 18th in 2018 alone. Today’s journalists are writing those stories and columns again. School shootings have become so routine that there is practically a template for them.

 

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Image: WBBJ-TV

There is something we can do, without removing the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Require responsible gun ownership. Require safety classes and security measures that keep guns away from easy access. We can restrict access to firearms to those with mental illnesses or prior convictions. We can require background checks at EVERY juncture of a firearm purchase, and the same for ammunition. We can eliminate the availability of assault weapons and those that carry more than six bullets. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for civilians to have these kinds of weapons, period.

 

The change must also happen with our elected officials. Instead of hand-wringing, use those hands to call, write, email, contact your elected officials (find them here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and ask them to force the discussion of the nation’s safety across all party lines. Your state legislators can make changes too. Tell them to make assault rifles harder to get than a license to drive a car. Tell them that 17 dead is 17 too many for us to accept. Fight the resignation that “there’s nothing we can do.” If your officials are in the pockets of the National Rifle Association (and by association, gun manufacturers), vote them out of office in favor of candidates who will take a stand and protect our citizens. If you want to get involved in gun control political action, check out https://everytown.org, an umbrella group that works to promote positive gun safety.

 

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This formation used to mean “Conga!” – but now it is burned into every student’s brain to mean “my hands are up, I have no weapon, please let me get out of here safely.” Image: USA Today

It’s time. It’s time to have the discussions NOW. It’s past time to stop the violence of convenience – where murder weapons are as easy to get as a Slurpee.

 

Because we all deserve to tell our kids “Bye. I love you. Have a good day at school.”

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

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We’ve got to be carefully teaching…

IMG_0065I have a granddaughter. She has two parents, four grandparents, two great-grandmothers, two uncles, one aunt, seven great-aunts, four great uncles, many cousins and a whole village of friends. She’s pretty well-protected. Lots of support, lots of playmates, lots of role models.

She will want for nothing.

I look forward to the days that she and I will talk about art and music and books and why that pesky little kid on the playground pulls her hair or is always there to push her on the swing. I’ll listen to her highs and lows of school life, take her out for ice cream and mani-pedis, be her confidante when her parents just don’t understand. And when she’s old enough, hopefully we’ll pick up each other’s bar tabs.

I can draw on my own experience from raising her mother and aunt and uncle and helping a whole slew of theater and choir kids who depended on me one way or another, whether it was to get a ride home, sew a costume, run lines, figure out a homework assignment or simply sit down at our table for a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Most of that experience helped me hone my compassion, patience, tolerance and of course, my wicked sense of humor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.44.34 PMAround our house, freak flags flew freely. Language could be appropriately salty, as long as it was in moderation, but there were no fears of reprisal. Above all, there was respect for every person’s opinion, question, feelings and values. There wasn’t always agreement, but everyone got to have their say as long as they were respectful of that right across the board. We made it a point to surround our kids – all of them – with like-minded grownups who set good examples.

I’m worried, though, about the world in which Sadie is growing up. Respect, hard work and tolerance all seem to be going by the wayside, replaced by bigotry, intolerance, racism, hatred and disrespect.

How do we teach the little ones that it’s not nice to call someone names when our presumptive “leaders” are slinging insults around the airwaves to thunderous applause? How do we teach them to share and compromise when the people we elect stomp their feet and refuse to do their jobs because they don’t like someone or their beliefs? How can we imbue them with tolerance and patience when so many people openly embrace discrimination? People cheer the concept of building a wall to keep out immigrants instead of taking that energy and reforming our immigration system – why? How do we teach them to look at the bigger picture, to make the world a better place for everyone when so many focus on one or two insignificant issues that hurt others, while ignoring the critical problems around them?

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.59.53 PMWhen did the sense of entitlement take over, pushing aside the needs or acknowledgement of others to favor one person’s mean spirit? When did we pick the “right” side of town? How did we develop a “give it to me, even when I haven’t earned it” attitude, eschewing hard work or service?

What do we tell these precious little ones? How do we tell them all that their lives matter, that there is a level playing field somewhere, that they are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity and that they are responsible to reflect that in their treatment of others?

What happened to punishing bad behavior instead of rewarding it?

And how are our leaders continually getting away with hate?

One of the things I plan on doing with Sadie is taking her to the theater. I am going to make sure one of the shows we see is “South Pacific,” a classic piece by Rodgers and Hammerstein that features a slice of life during World War II. I will tell her about her great-grandfathers who served in the Pacific and we will listen to one of the “controversial” songs from that show that we should probably put on the Billboard charts again. It’s called “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” and the lyrics go like this:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught from year to year.

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight

To hate all the people your relatives hate

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.55.08 PMRespect. It’s being kind when being rude or mean is easier. It’s caring for the feelings of everyone affected by a situation. Sometimes it means biting your tongue until it bleeds. It’s loving someone when they least deserve it. It’s being competitive without being hateful or violent; there is no excuse for hurting someone who roots for the opposing team.

I refuse to teach Sadie hate. I refuse to accept it from people wanting my vote or worse, those who are already in office. I will teach her to take action and defend herself when someone wants to take away her rights or the rights of others. I will teach her to listen, to consider, to weigh the pros and cons and be tolerant and patient. I will help her believe that she deserves dignity, but above all, to treat others as she would like to be treated and to be true to herself. Despite the crazy world she lives in, I will teach her that love is much stronger than hate.

Of those things, I will make sure she is carefully taught.

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Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

McD’s Monster Mistake: Who Doesn’t Want to be Batman?

I can’t f-ing believe it.

It is 2015, right?

As I drove through McDonalds to get a Happy Meal – not for a child, but for myself, because it’s a healthier choice, sizewise – I was asked “for a girl or a boy?”

I was momentarily stunned.

“What?” I asked.

“Is this for a boy or a girl?” the voice answered.

“Does it matter?” I responded.

“Yes.”

Silence, tempered with consternation, on my end. The feminist in me was ready to reach through the box and strangle something, but I cooled. Surely this was just a nightmare.

Eventually I said “It doesn’t matter,” as I pulled my car around the corner.

Had I not been in a drive-thru with a car in front of me, I would have just left. But I was stuck. And my curiosity was getting the better of me. What would they choose?

At the window, they handed me my Happy Meal. Just enough cheeseburger, a tiny order of fries (about 10 – perfect), apple slices and milk.

And a pink and black box.

What the hell was Ronald McDonald up to now?

Inside the box was a Monster High Dress Designer Toy, comprised of a plastic standup doll and different pieces of fabric that could be snapped into place over a Monster girl form.UnhappyToy

Essential life skills, McD’s is teaching these young ones. Plaid or metallic?

Other “girl toys” in this line, which was created by McDonalds THIS YEAR, includes a head with hair that can be combed and stickers placed to create the face; a mirror with changing Monster girl figures; a fashion notebook and a bracelet. These toys are part of the “McPlay POWER” campaign, which features “heroic thrills” for boys and “creeperific fun” for girls.

On the “boys toys” side, there is Batman. Boys get two versions of the Batmobile (one pulls back and races, the other fires a weapon), the Joker with a hammer making banging noises, the Joker riding a motorcycle or action figures, including Batman himself.

Somebody in ClownWorld said “Well, there are no girls in Batman comics.”

Really? Please, then, explain Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Batwoman, Black Canary, Huntress, Stephanie Brown, Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Lady Blackhawk, Dawn Grainger, Renee Montoya and Hawkfire No girls, indeed.

Fools.

Here’s what the McComeback will be: “If you wanted a Batman toy, you can always ask for a boy’s toy.

Not that easy, clown.

With the Batman lineup, behavior like fighting, speeding, launching weapons and saving the world (using their skills of imagination and competition) is reinforced, while the Monster High cadre hones their skills in fashion, beauty, accessories and twisted self-imagery.

Wrong. Just so wrong on so many levels.

I didn’t pick glass shards out of my fists to deal with this idiocy.

McDonalds uses a big ad agency to come up with these campaigns. I guess with the popularity of the show “Mad Men” and its back-to-the-Stone Age-sexism, they thought it would be a great idea to segregate toys. Because an agency that big with a client so huge couldn’t possibly provide children with just toys – something to play with – instead of pigeonholing them like society has done for far too many years.

As a former newspaper columnist, I remember writing about this several years ago – during the last century – and this déjà vu is a sucker punch to the gut.

Quick! Pick out the girl toys and the boy toys!
Quick! Pick out the girl toys and the boy toys!

Target and Walmart, both worthy competitors in mega-consumerism, have eliminated the divisions between girl and boy toys, with no dip in their sales. Recent pressure from the medical community, with concerns for nutritional values, brought about a positive change in the Happy Meal, which used to include a fried sandwich, more fries and a soda. Now, things like yogurt and fruit are available, and even adult meals that come with fries include a choice of salad instead. McDonalds seems willing to step up and make a food change, but continues to practice inexcusable sexism, a fail on the grandest scale.

And for those idiots at the agency who think girls don’t like Batman and Joker, here’s a news flash: girls like comics and superheroes, fighting crime and playing with things that go “POW!” “BAM!” and “BOOM!” – their numbers are growing and you’ve missed a huge national trend.

Are you really getting your money’s worth, Ronnie?

But the saddest thing was when I was handed the Happy Meal by the fast food worker – a teenage girl – I realized that she was being taught that this segregation that is so wrong is what she has to do to keep her job.

All I know is that my granddaughter will never taste a Happy Meal until there’s equality in Gotham City.batwoman