Welcome to Generation V
Domestic terrorists have shot a hole in our American way of life
Ten days ago we marked 22 years since two seniors invaded their Colorado high school, murdering 12 students and one teacher. Columbine, as it’s now known, also began the process of blurring lines across multiple generations.
No, Millennials — you’re not who you think you are. And neither are the Boomers, nor the classically (or uncreatively) named Generations X, Y and Z.
We’re all part of Generation V now
Of course, school shootings scarred the American landscape before Columbine. But that Littleton, Colorado massacre became what’s known to be somewhat of a “blueprint” for the perpetuation of and defense against subsequent vicious acts.
The Columbine High School mass shooting unfortunately acclimated us to the idea of the media as a violent messenger. I don’t know about you, but the images of a student dangling from the school library window and parades of terrified kids marching single-file out of their high school with their hands raised above their heads will forever have a disquieting home seared into my psyche. The bar went up alarmingly 13 years later when the ages of the victims plummeted in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. I still can’t fathom the 20 children, ages 6 and 7 — babies, really — and their six adult protectors being gunned down inside the safety of the cocoon where they learned to read, write and share with one another.
And when shootings started spreading beyond campuses to entertainment venues; then everyday places where people congregate; then continued in workplaces, more than a few of us expressed concern. But even after recent murders at three Atlanta spas, a Boulder grocery store and an Indianapolis FedEx — we probably won’t see the politicians taking much action. I maintain they, too, are afraid. Not of gun violence, per se, but of the gun lobby, for a fact.
Violence has found a home here, and we won’t be evicting it anytime soon
Over the past two decades-plus, domestic terrorists have shot a hole in our American way of life. Some experts, with much higher pay grades than I, call the cohort affected by this violence the “Columbine Generation”, as they practice regular active-shooter drills and their schools take security more seriously, while some talk about arming teachers.
I prefer to call all of us — from my fellow Baby Boomers on down to the so-called Generation Alpha — which includes children born after 2013 — Generation V.
“V”, as in violence, is the inevitable result of doing nothing
A former colleague and I were discussing this horrendous state of affairs recently, and came to a joint conclusion.
It’s not just violence perpetrated by the lax regulation of guns that brings us to the realization that things aren’t as safe as they could be here. It’s the fact that most our children have grown up in a society where violence is the norm.
Every person who has trudged up the schoolhouse steps — students, teachers, support staff, administrators, even parents — since Columbine’s sad, unfolding saga in April 1999 has lived with school shootings as a concrete reality. In a sad statement of congruent verisimilitude, every student who was born after 9–11 has not known an America that was not at war. And all of the rest of us, who work for the safety of our students and staff, or pine for loved ones serving overseas, are continually plagued by a mutual concern that It. Could. Happen. Here. Because it has, again and again.
So the politicians sing the same ol’ song and tell us by their stomach-turning inaction that this state of affairs is OK.
Violence hides in plain sight
When I joined the teaching ranks at my suburban D.C. high school in 1994, the newest “thing” in school safety coincided with my debut in Room 215. We hired our first-ever “school resource officer” — a cop from the local force who, they said, was trained in the physical and psychological demands required to keep all of us in a building of approximately 2,500 people safe. I’ve never seen any statistics that say if this new (at the time) “SRO” program worked, or was successful, or if it just kept our concerns at bay. But I willed myself to believe that the five men and one woman — all sworn police officers — assigned at various times (our allocation was one such “professional” per year) to protect the building in which I worked made our school safe. But then my student newspaper staff took a look around. Our high school, built in 1966, had more than 35 doors to the outside world — from the front entrance to the sports locker rooms to the auditorium and gym entrances out back — and all of them were unlocked most of the school day. Some — I’m thinking of the weight room and at least one cafeteria door to the outside — were kept propped open while school was in session.
My student reporters published their findings, but nothing happened—at least not right away. The biggest takeaway from their investigation—for my students, at least—was the fact that someone could steal their intellectual property and it would go viral on the Internet. The snap above—of our School Resource Officer patrolling the high school’s Senior Hall— was shot by one of my journalism students sometime in the mid-2000s. Now, anyone Googling “cops in schools” or “school police officers” will find that this iconic photo pops up, with no original attribution at all to the high school student newspaper staff that captured the moment.
If anyone had wanted to debate the issue at the time, they probably would acknowledge that one police officer, no matter how vigilant, couldn’t defend the safety of a sprawling campus like that, containing so many human beings and so many manners of egress. Our SRO looks tough in the photo. He was, in reality, both firm and friendly. We trusted him to do his job. But he was only one man, in a sea of thousands of unknowns.
Violence never attacked my school, but it could have
In the last few years of my time there, the high school made attempts to beef up its security. Hired more staff to help our resident cop; repaired and locked all the doors and placed an audio/video device at the front and back entrances to the school. Anyone who wanted to get into the building had to be “buzzed in”, unless, of course, it was at the start or end of the school day, when hundreds of people streamed in and out of the building. The opening and closing of school presented a wide open target—I thanked the Good Lord more than once, as my Nana would say, that we were never in a terrorist’s sites.
The school’s administration also installed “panic buttons” in all of the classrooms and large public areas such the gym and the cafeteria, buzzers hooked up to the public address system so anyone could call for help right away. Of course, we were working with teenagers—and more than once on my watch a 15- or 16-year-old considered it pretty funny to “buzz” the main office for no reason. Yeah, kid, a real laugh riot.
The year after I retired, the Spartans — my home for 23 years — unveiled a brand spanking new building renovation. Essentially a whole new school, with all the bells and whistles that entails. The last time I visited, I noted the convoluted process set up in the new building for visitors to gain entrance. But my former colleagues also told me they were having a problem with students exiting through “secondary” entrances and, being the polite kids that they were, holding the doors open for those who wanted at short-cut to get in.
Violence will always be a given — politicians can do something about it
There’s always going to be a way for school shooters intent on mayhem and destruction to wreak havoc on a so-called “soft-target” like a school. That’s a scary, but realistic, statement. But I’d like to think that arming our officers, our administrators, our teachers to the teeth isn’t the way to go.
Maybe the politicians, who ultimately are in charge of our safety, can do something to limit the armaments flowing so freely to our citizens. They’ve tried before and were successful; but they’ve also attempted to get a hold of the problem and have failed spectacularly.
I get it that some of us like to hunt, but I’ve said this before and it bears repeating: Do we really need semi-automatic rifles to kill Bambi? Don’t be stupid. Those personal weapons of mass destruction, however, do a good job killing our fellow Americans.
I can hear some of you right now: “OK, Boomer”
But I’d rather be ridiculed for my age than remain a member of Generation V. It’s time to put up or shut up, before the bad guys do it for us.