Clouded Judgments – Living With Fear

by Daniel Fogg

It was April 20, 1999. Lunchtime. Two teens walked into the cafeteria of a small Colorado high school and forever changed the world. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire, killed 13 people, and shattered a country’s delusions.

Schools are sanctuaries. Safe. Secure. Children are blessed. Protected. Immortal. These are fantasies we let ourselves believe time and time again. A tragedy tells us we’re wrong, we mourn the injured and dead, we move on with our lives. We survive. We forget.

Not this time. Columbine will not be forgotten.

Remember, learn, avoid future heartache. Don’t let history repeat itself. Good. But how far are we willing to go? How much are we willing to sacrifice?

A 20-man task force was established to make the Greece school district in upstate New York safe. Superintendents have been brainstorming for months in Rush, a nearby school district. What makes kids open fire? What makes killers kill?

The blame shifted quickly from access to upbringing to plain old opportunity. Motive was all but ignored. The killers themselves were virtually blameless. Then it hit them. The parents, the officials, the task force experts. They all realized the truth. Killers kill because of what they wear.

Within days of the shooting black trench coats were banned from nearly every school in America. Then the overcoats were disallowed altogether, no matter the color. When two men were seen standing outside one building in the long attire, classes were canceled for the day. And then a girl sat on a bus and pulled a gun-shaped key chain from her bag and the authorities realized how wrong they were.

The girl was expelled, the key chain confiscated. The task force was reeling, the superintendents stunned. They hadn’t overreacted strongly enough. They hadn’t realized the scope. Killers don’t kill because of what they wear. Killers kill because they can.

Now the schools are pulling out all the stops. In Greece there’s a ban on all coats and jackets. Cold, sick, in bed with pneumonia is better than dead. Many schools will soon be using ID tags. Label the kids, makes it easier to identify the bodies. But the winner for the ultimate in safety goes to Rush-Henrietta, where a ban has been placed on all backpacks.

That’s right. Backpacks. Not to worry, though, it’s not like they’re overreacting. To show how reasonable they can be, the school board is willing not to ban them completely. Students can bring bags, sure. Why not? But the problem comes once they’re inside, so the bags must be emptied at the door and stored, empty, in the student’s locker. Wow.

Tragedy, violence, death; these things are a part of life. They’ll always be around, they can’t be avoided. Why should we drive ourselves crazy while we try? Why should we punish our kids for dead people’s crimes?

We shouldn’t. And yet we do.

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