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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Teachers, mentors and investing in the future with somebody else’s money

College is expensive. Doing my best to help...
College is expensive. Doing my best to help…

I gave away thousands of dollars in the last two nights. Felt real good, too.

Gonna give away a little more next week. This could become a habit.
Of course, it’s not my money. I’m just doing my part with the local scholarship foundation. I help them evaluate applications and they found out I liked to talk in front of people, so Bazinga! – I became a presenter.
Having sent three kids through the school system and trying to help a couple of them find money to go to college, I remember the uphill struggle. College is expensive – make that EXPENSIVE.
Back in the day when I started my higher education, I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship that paid for classes, books and some of my housing. I went to a state college (now a university), got a whopping $1,800 per year that covered my tuition and books and had money left over.
These days, California state colleges are no longer the cheap alternative. The average undergrad pays more than $6,500 a year, not counting books or auxiliary class charges. Graduate school is even more. Ivy League schools are over the top; parents of students at these schools are basically buying the equivalent of a new car every year, just to keep their child on track for higher education.
So every little bit helps.
Part of the backstory to the scholarship granting process is reading applications. They both inspire you and break your heart. It also brought out my multiple personalities. The writer in me looked for style. The skeptic in me looked for holes in their stories. The supervisor in me looked for reasons to promote each student. The teacher in me looked for lessons they had learned. The mother in me looked for ways to help every single one.

The writer herself back in, well, the Nixon Administration
The writer herself back in, well, the Nixon Administration

And as someone who went through the college experience twice – once when I left high school during the Nixon Administration and again a couple of years age after raising my three children and deciding I really wanted to take “finish college” off my bucket list – I wanted to help each and every applicant have that experience.
The money we gave away came from fundraisers, appeals, memorial contributions; all donations from a supportive community. We wanted to give as many students we could a little bit of help, and those who needed a little more, enough to get them on the path to changing their lives and reaching at least some of their dreams. Not everyone who applied earned a reward, but I hope they learned from the attempt and will be determined to keep asking the world around them not for a handout, but for guidance and support to keep them going.
I got involved with the scholarship group because one of my mentors asked me if I would. Scholarships may be scarce, but mentors are all around us. Mentors can help us no matter where we are in our lifelong education process. I shared my feelings about mentors with the students, asking them to not only find them, but respect them and become mentors themselves.
Mentor is another word for teacher. When kids are small, it’s easy to point to the people who give them knowledge and skills as teachers. When you’re older and out of school, the process changes slightly and fate drops in people here and there to give you more tools and help you mold the way you approach things like working, parenting, growing and succeeding.

But when we’re older, working, removed from school and just keeping up with the band called Life, they become “mentors.” And when we become mentors, we gain the satisfaction that we’re paying back some cosmic debt. I wished I had a chance to tell the students how many times mentors have changed my life for the better. Look for them, I should have advised. They’re kind of like angels, you don’t always know they’re there to guide you until it’s too late.

My alma mater, Washington High School, circa 2011. It's been around since 1891; the facade was rebuilt to mimic the style of the original after it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by  Whitelily519(AmeliaChu)
My alma mater, Washington High School, circa 2011. It’s been around since 1891; the facade was rebuilt to mimic the style of the original after it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by
Whitelily519(AmeliaChu)