Tragic Paranoia

“I heard all about this Columbine thing, and it’s happened at my school. I didn’t think this was going to happen, but now I’m just real scared.”

Brittany Petley. A student at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Bethpage, N.Y. She’s scared. She’s scared because she doesn’t want someone to walk into the cafeteria while she’s eating lunch and shoot her. She’s scared because one of her classmates put a ‘hit list’ on a web site. She’s scared because the greater part of the American populace has gone completely insane.

Columbine. Say the word. Columbine. It evokes an emotional response. Columbine. Fear, sadness, confusion, anger; different people feel different things, but everybody feels something. Even if it’s irritation or indifference, everybody feels something. Columbine. Two kids killed 13 people, and the act affected humanity.

The act affected humanity by shattering an illusion of safety, of sanctity, of innocence. It changed the color of the glasses we wear to make ourselves feel secure. We can’t go back to where we were, and now there’s a feeling of unease associated with school, with children, and with guns.

It’s understandable. Even desirable, because unease leads to precaution and precaution leads to readiness. But there’s a thin line between readiness and paranoia, and America crossed it a long time ago.

A 13-year-old boy, an eighth grader at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Bethpage, N.Y., made himself a web site. It contained some lists that got people upset. One was labeled ‘People I Really Hate’, another was labeled ‘Hit List’. The Hate List was a list of names and corresponding insults. The Hit List was a list of names and how he planned to hurt them. It read in part, “Most of the attacks will take place when it gets warmer.”

The page has been removed from the Net, the boy has been suspended from school. And parents want more. They want him expelled or, better yet, thrown in jail. Let’s ignore the obvious First Amendment issues. This is still completely absurd.

“I heard all about this Columbine thing, and it’s happened in my school. I didn’t think this was going to happen, but now I’m just real scared.”

He made a list. He made a list of people he knows and he put it on the Internet. This does not mean he was going to hurt them, to pull out a gun and shoot them. Every kid who fantasizes about shooting someone, who jokes about whacking them on the head, isn’t going to actually do it. They certainly shouldn’t be thrown in jail.

Columbine is associated with teenage rampage. It scared people. Two kids got guns and shot up their school, killed their classmates, killed their teachers. They had problems, they were sick, and a lot of people suffered because of it. Now, almost two years later, kids continue to suffer because people think they will kill.

Not all kids will kill. Not many kids will kill. One incident does not make it necessary to lock our children in a padded room to avoid the possibility of danger. There’s danger at home, there’s danger on the street, there’s danger when you go to the store. There’s no way of avoiding it, so why let it control you?

Nobody’s quoted the kid in this story. Why? Because he’ll tell the truth. It was a joke. It was a gag, he thought it was funny, and really, he didn’t mean anything by it. America doesn’t want to hear that. They want to wallow in the tragedy of two sick kids and the 13 people they killed. They want to hide in paranoia. And they want to feel like they’re doing something to prevent it from happening again.

If it’s going to happen again, it will. You can’t stop it without losing the freedom that America represents. Stop trying. Stop trying and get on with your lives.

– Dan Fogg, 6/2001