Growing up I knew a lot of boys who were “troublemakers.” The serendipitous alphabet often put these boys just seats behind me in grammar school–the ones who couldn’t contain their energy, boredom or their boyness. David Nunez, my neighbor, was a troublemaker. He was funny, hyper and enough of a discipline problem that his seat was moved next to our sixth grade teacher’s desk. Believe it or not, he contained himself in class. On the playground his temper flared and his hands regularly flew. Through middle and high school he shined in sports and stayed occupied long enough to avoid the drama of our lower income neighborhood. School, and sports in particular, were David’s venues to channel his rambunctious behavior. On the day of the National School Walkout with thousands planning to stand up against gun violencee, I ponder the state of schools today. We live in a time where first graders get handcuffed and black and Latino boys have a bull’s-eye on them. I question if the Davids of my childhood would survive.
In the age of mass shootings and zero tolerance, the idea of school as oasis for Black and Brown boys is rapidly disappearing. The knee jerk reaction to the Parkland, Florida shooting has included legal initiatives by states like Florida for a school marshall program to arm staff with weapons. Although practical solutions that will deal with gun violence are necessary swapping pencils and protractors for guns and bullet proof vests is a proposition that presents more issues than it solves.
Although practical solutions that will deal with gun violence are necessary swapping pencils and protractors for guns and bullet proof vests is a proposition that presents more issues than it solves.
Aside from not immediately solving the issue, and lacking concrete guidelines (who would be trained, where firearms would be stored, who is authorized to use them) there’s the question of when guns should be used; would it only be during crisis situations? What determines a crisis? What happens if a staffer views a student as a potential threat?
We can’t forget or ignore the fact that young black and Latino men are exceedingly the targets of over policing and police violence. As we’ve seen in just the past week, you can’t sit in a coffee shop or work out at the gym while being black. Police get called and cuffs are pulled out. And these are the tamer examples of what can happen. Saheed Vassel, a mentally ill Brooklyn man was shot and killed by police for waving around a shower head they thought was a gun. Trained officers shot bullets first and asked questions last. Now imagine it’s a school, not the streets, where civilians with a fraction of the training that police receive are expected to handle similar situations. The potential for mistakes and lost lives jumps.
In the flurry to find a band-aid for the problem, no one is talking about why someone is driven to violence at all. What emotional support is needed, whether mental stability is an issue and how it can be addressed. The work of addressing bullying, trauma and mental health, coupled with the habit of stamping down boys and their boyhood is creating a perfect storm no one wants to deal with until it’s too late.
Too late is when “quiet” kids like Abel Cedeno, a Bronx teen who says he was mercilessly bullied because of his ethnicity and sexuality, stabs two classmates, killing one during history class. This incident that occurred in a matter of minutes in the fall of 2017 wouldn’t have been stopped by an armed teacher. It might have even led to Cedeno’s own death.
Let’s stop painting bull’s eyes on our boys backs. Let’s make schools a place to turn to for expanding their minds not a place they shrink from in fear. Putting guns in schools takes what should be a safe and nurturing environment and mars it with tension and creates a war zone. That’s not what any parent wants for their child and it’s not what any of our sons deserve.