Friday, March 2, 2018

Culture Of Violence Built By The Best Government Money Can Buy

Law enforcement is swarming over the schools in my pokey little state as gun threats are made daily and hourly by disturbed youths with access to photos of assault rifles, if not actual assualt rifles.

My taxes pay for the government branch that created the PR tweet shown above.

"A young boy, Ali, is cradled by his mother in the hospital where he was taken after he was injured by a U.S. cluster bomblet. He had shrapnel lodged in his brain and his doctors said he was not expected to survive." (Photo and caption by James Rupert)

Forty-three thousand children in my state are growing up in poverty while our legislature is about to give a $60 million tax break to General Dynamics, which builds warships capable of carrying nuclear missiles.

Can you connect any of these dots?

Second graders at the school where I teach are worried about school shootings. One was kept home by her parents after a nearby larger school district shut down for the day due to online threats with AK-47 images saying "you're all dead" on a certain date. Three students at that high school were arrested following a second threat that same week. (The fact that the person posting knew how to spell "you're" correctly probably narrowed the field of suspects quite a bit.)

Another second grader made plans to run from the school to her babysitter's house nearby, identifying the door she would use and the friend she would take with her.

Another second grader alarmed our school's custodian by dropping a toy rifle cartridge in the hall and leaving it behind rather than taking it home as instructed. His teacher threw the cartridge away and notified his parents.

Our school leadership team spent half an hour talking about how our district's high school had also received a threat that day. Administrators sent out alarming, somewhat garbled phone messages to staff and parents advising the school was on "lock out" meaning classes continued but no one was allowed to enter the building except district staff.

We also talked about the problem at our elementary school of students wishing to be helpful by letting adults in who are waiting outside to be buzzed in (our school secretary is very busy). Since we are studying Positive Action, students look for ways to be kind and cooperative. A dad who was let in by a fifth grader told her: "You shouldn't have let me in."

Another, much more affluent high school in my state has students that are riled up and organized. Their amazing spokesperson Pearl Benjamin gave this speech in the state capitol yesterday, as reported by the facebook group Suit Up Maine.

Image: Michele Stapleton

#ENOUGH #NeverAgain #ThrowThemOut#MEPolitics #2020voters

We're proud to share the complete remarks from Camden Hills Regional High School student Pearl Benjamin, made today at the gun reform advocacy day at the Maine State House, organized by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. Our future is in good hands.

My name is Pearl Benjamin. I am 16 years old and I attend Camden Hills Regional High School. My friends and I have grown up as part of a generation with a different set of norms from most of yours. When my parents were teenagers, the norms were cassette tapes, cigarettes, and boom boxes. In my generation, what’s normal are smartphones, Netflix, SnapChat...and mass shootings.

Every year more than 2,500 kids are killed with guns in America. That’s seven of us every single day. This is our “normal”.

How did this come to be? Why do my classmates and I now expect regular “lockdown” drills to prepare for the threat of an armed peer? Why have we been burdened with anxiety at our schools, afraid that ours might be the next to fall victim to an angry guy with a gun?

The answer is simple: our safety is not a top priority for you. Legislators favor political power over our lives- accepting campaign contributions from the NRA, prioritizing industry profits over safety, and indulging the whims of Call of Duty voters who *have to have* their deadly toys. Here in Maine, 18-year-olds can purchase assault-style weapons. No permit is required to purchase a gun, and background checks are not required for private sales. That means violent criminals, people who are dangerously mentally ill, and boyfriends who hit their girlfriends can all buy weapons.

Legislators: and I’m speaking to all of you--Republican, Democrat, and Independent; Liberal, Conservative, and in between --you have not done enough to protect me and my peers from the terrifyingly real dangers of gun violence. I know that because I know kids who have guns. I know how easy it is for just about anyone to purchase a weapon that can kill me in an instant. Legislators, you have not done your part to create a system that puts as much space as possible between kids and assault weapons designed with one purpose and one purpose only: to kill.

I don’t feel like it should be the job of teenagers to teach adults about right and wrong. My friends and I didn’t come here today to try to convince you that our lives are more important than your job, the gun industry, or the hobbies of weekend warriors. We’ve already tried that, and you didn’t listen. Today we are here to warn you. We are here to tell you that your time for valuing your own benefit over the lives of others is running out. Because of my generation, your position of power is no longer set in stone.

This movement launched by American teenagers is as formidable as it looks. We are passionate. We are informed. We are unphased. Some of you still don’t quite understand where all these intelligent, outspoken kids came from (we must be actors). Actually, kids like me have been saying things like this for a very long time. In cities all over this country, kids like me have been yelling about innocent brown kids in hoodies being killed by those so-called “good guys with guns.” We have been here, making the same arguments and calling for the same reform for years. And you have ignored us. You are ignoring us now. I think I know why. It’s because we are too young to vote, and too easy to dismiss. Lawmakers don’t feel threatened by us. After all, we’re just lazy, screen-obsessed teenagers, right? Who cares about our complaints.

If you’d been listening, you’d have learned something about the teenagers around you. The teens that came with me today are impassioned students who also work multiple jobs, teach kids in after-school programs, and own their own small businesses. You know what else they do? They attend select board meetings, write newspaper articles, submit public testimony, and call their members of congress. We are productive citizens dedicated to making the world a better place- a place where kids like us feel safe and happy in our towns, our schools, and our homes. A place where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School can claim its place in history as the site of America’s LAST school shooting.

Legislators, it’s time to pass common sense gun laws. It’s time for universal background checks. It’s time to ban high capacity magazines. It’s time to raise the minimum age for gun sales to 21. It’s time to ban assault-style weapons. And it’s time to dismantle the manipulative NRA.

Take action while you still can, because if you don’t fit into this new world we are creating, believe me, we will vote you out.

I love her optimism and I admire her enthusiasm. But unfortunately I do not agree that voting will solve our addition to violence, state-sanctioned or otherwise. Part of the reason I don't is that I'm quite a bit older than Ms. Benjamin and I have seen how the system neutralizes those who are elected to public office.

I also call B.S. on hoping that the legislature -- even in a pokey little state like ours -- is significantly different from Congress. Here's how one Maine legislator who is not affiliated with either of the corporate parties explained the process in an email that was shared with me last night:
I think it useful to understand why the major party statehouse leadership is inclined toward supporting corporate welfare.  The leaders purchase loyalty from their caucus members through funds laundered by the leadership-PAC process, funds that mostly originate with "the lobby" which are primarily corporations.  Those members who are most loyal (and can be 'trusted' to follow instructions) become committee chairs, so it is not surprising that they are generally weak personalities.  (Remember that half of the 15 Democrats who flipped their votes to get rid of ranked choice voting were committee chairs.) 
The most vulnerable statehouse leaders are those who are seeking higher elected office; the others are not accountable to anyone.

Maine lobbyists more than doubled their income last year. So working through the legislature by electing officials is very unlikely to bring about the gun policy reforms Ms. Benjamin is calling for.

However, a massive walkout by high school students across the state might do it. A massive walkout by teachers would almost surely do it -- because no economy can function without the free public babysitting service offered by public schools.

Will teachers do it? Maybe the urban ones will. In my pokey little district teachers won't even discuss contacting their legislators to oppose a bill that would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring their guns onto school property (LD1761, currently tabled in the education committee).

It's my strong suspicion that the recent frenzy about school shootings and rash of copycat threats will mostly result in lots more police and soldiers in our public schools.

That will make people like me resign or retire rather than work in a prison-like settings, and open the way for even more "troops to teachers" to move in. I'm too old to have children in school anymore, but the problem of how to earn a living or afford retirement might even dovetail with the problem of where and how my grandchildren will be educated. Almost all live in cities where high schools already have metal detectors at the door and "school resource officers" aka armed police patrolling the halls.

One of my grandchildren is almost in high school, and plans on attending the school where three teenage boys were led away in handcuffs yesterday for making online threats. The local papers reported that all the electronic devices in their homes were siezed as well. Police are big on doing that to activists also, and the laptops and tablets are seldom returned.

In the wake of school shootings, the paper makes it sound like police confiscating all this expensive gear is prudent. What do you think? Will that save us from the culture of violence that the best government money can buy has built for our children to live in?

REVISED 3/5/18: It now appears that the teen boys who were arrested were framed by their father, who is on the lam. Local sources report the father is estranged from his sons and has stolen their online identities before, in Canada. What a world.


Peter said...

Don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Parkland was cited as one of the safest communities in the country.

Since Columbine the mindset of "it can't happen here" has been a difficult image to challenge.

M said...

"... no economy can function without the free public babysitting service offered by public schools."

Hit me like a ton of bricks.

Also that our teachers give us such students as Pearl Benjamin and Emma Gonzales.

And I know some pretty impressive ones out of Skowhegan High School.