Tikkun Olam at Temple Beth Am

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Afraid to drop my kids off at school

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Post by Guest Blogger Suzi LeVine
http://suzilevine.wordpress.com

In 2006, a lunatic got into the Seattle Jewish Federation offices and shot/killed people. This man wasn’t just a lunatic. He was/is a terrorist. He struck terror into the hearts of the Jews throughout Seattle. The day after the incident, a group of us met on a hillside our neighborhood, with a police officer stationed nearby to keep us safe. To the depths of our souls, we were afraid. That’s terror. That’s what terrorists do.

To help keep our community safe, many of the Jewish institutions in Washington State received funding to turn their facilities into fortresses. I was on the board of Hillel (the Jewish Student organization at the University of Washington) at the time and we really wrestled with this conundrum. We wanted to make sure that students felt that it was an open and hospitable environment. Yet – we needed our staff and students to be safe. We had just built a beautiful window-filled building designed to convey that sense of welcoming and lightness.

6 years later, we have bullet proof front glass doors, an intercom system to buzz people in, a surveillance system that captures footage of the surrounding area, and armed police officers for many of the big events. Fortunately, students are resilient and they have continued to come. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.

In 2007, my family and I went to Israel and, during our trip, went to a mall in Eilat to buy some sandals. We went through metal detectors that were staffed by young men with very large and imposing guns. Throughout their country, Israelis go through security to shop and live their lives. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.

Today, I drove my 2 elementary school kids to their respective schools. There was a police officer at my daughter’s school but no noticeable security at my son’s school. I have never been scared of dropping my children off at school before. But my brain couldn’t help but run through macabre scenarios at what are sweet and very open/accessible schools. Would some crazy young man (they are all young men, unfortunately) go into the school with a semi-automatic weapon and murder my babies? Of course the odds are against that happening, but are there mentally ill copy cats who would do that? Just last year, some dumb high school students carried fake plastic weapons onto the play area of one of our neighborhood elementary schools. Granted, they wouldn’t fire on anyone – but if there can be non-mentally ill high school students who do something as moronic as that (last I checked, “stupid” wasn’t classified as a mental illness), then it’s not a stretch for someone to bring a real weapon to one of the schools

So what’s the solution? How do we reduce the terror? How do we reduce the gun violence?

There are far more qualified people thinking about the criminal science and legislative angles on this. But here are just a few ideas from a mom who wants to make sure that, tonight, I get to kiss and hug my babies:

  1. Eliminate the weapons and their ammo – we need federal, state and municipal efforts on this:
    1. Ban them and make it impossibly hard to acquire and/or keep them – including ones that people already own (when legislation gets introduced on this, it’ll be incumbent on all of us to work hard and make a ton of phone calls in support of this legislation. The Pro-Assault Gun lobby has a lot more money and will do a lot to stop this, but we are stronger).
    2. Buy them back from people so that they feel fairly compensated (And for those who say that only the people who are truly dangerous will then be able to acquire them, I have only to point out that, if Adam Lanza’s mother had not been able to LEGALLY acquire the weapons she had, maybe he would not have been able to do what he did). Here’s more on the NY andChicago buy back programs. Each program had pros/cons – but if you can couple the ban WITH a buy back program, perhaps it can be more successful.
    3. Make the ammo cost (as Chris Rock says) $5,000/bullet.
    4. Charge obscene levels of taxes on any weapon related purchases. If we can tax soda, cigarettes, gas and candy more, we sure as heck can tax weapons/ammo more.
  2. Especially in the interim when the politicians are fighting/hashing through what can still respect the 2nd amendment – Turn the schools into fortresses
    1. If you can’t keep a lunatic from getting a weapon – then you better tell me you’ll make it a heck of a lot harder for them to get into my kid’s school. Governors, Mayors, Senators, Presidents – find the funding to get my kids’ schools secure. I don’t want my kids’ principals to have to tackle the lunatic. I don’t want the lunatic to get into the school.
    2. One thing NOT to do, though, is to introduce more guns to the situation. It’s truly insane to think that arming and training teachers/school administrators to USE and keep guns is going to prevent gun violence. So – what – you want to have a Wyatt Earp style standoff next to the girls bathroom and lockers? That’s not okay.
  3. Address the mental health crisis
    1. At both of my kids’ schools, one of the first things cut with budget limitations was a school counselor. What if school counselors and mental health were the top priorities?
    2. Better fund early learning – as that’s the time to identify and address many of the issues that eventually balloon into much bigger issues. What if we could identify a lapse in brain development in the area of the brain pertaining to empathy – and then provide strategies and tools for development? What if programs like Roots of Empathy could help EVERY student develop those areas more effectively. Prof. James Heckman from the U of Chicago did a study that showed that, for every dollar we invest in early learning (zero to 5 in his study) we save $7-14 later in incarceration, rehabilitation, and other crime related costs.

Given how long it will probably take to pass and then enact legislation, I would suggest that we need parallel action tracks to address this scourge on society.

Ever since they were teeny, I would emphasize to them that my number one job (besides loving them) was to keep them safe. For example, if they were doing something fun, but dangerous (playing with sharp sticks), I would be a buzzkill and tell them to put the sticks down. After they guffawed with a two syllable “mo-om!” I would simply ask: “what’s my main job” – and they’d put the stick down while reluctantly saying “keep me safe”.

This time “keeping them safe” feels much more daunting, especially since it relies on the whole community and country. But I’ve watched enough movies to know that, when the group comes together to take down the bad guy, the group – and good – always triumphs.

Change on this front is not going to happen if we don’t push for it. So – while I still feel afraid today to drop my kids off at school, I am going to work hard to make sure that condition doesn’t persist – and I ask you to help too.

For a start – here are some resources/places to engage and stay tuned to the effort:

Also – call your Mayor’s, governor’s, and state legislators’ offices. There’s a lot that can be done locally and not just federally.

Lastly – Take 18 minutes to watch President Obama’s speech last night at the Newtown interfaith vigil.

Be ready. Your help will be needed.

A

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One thought on “Afraid to drop my kids off at school

  1. A very thoughtful and touching blog post with many suggestions as to how this hideous cascade of tragedies can be stopped.

    However, the author’s mention of Asperger’s is highly inappropriate. Through having an autistic daughter, I’ve been acquainted with families who have children (now adults) who were born with that disorder. Violence toward others is NOT a hallmark of autism (which is a birth disorder, not a mental illness). Additionally, people with actual mental illness are not automatically violent; in fact, the incidence of violent behavior among people with mental illness is no higher than among “normal” people. These are red herrings. Killings are done with guns. Without those guns — especially, without semi-automatic assault weapons — these kids and adults would be alive.

    State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles will propose gun control legislation in the coming session. Please tell your legislators that you and your family and your friends support that legislation. Guards at the doors of synagogues are not enough.

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