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National Editorials & Columns

School violence: We need to fix this

Sometimes, writing a humor column is asking too much of a person.

This is the first column I have written since the massacre in Connecticut that took the lives of six adults and 20 children.

Two days before the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history, I was sitting on my couch, watching live coverage of two gunmen on Cal State Fullerton’s campus. The anchorman was on the phone with a female student who, along with her classmates and teacher, had barricaded the door to her classroom with desks, had turned off the lights and was huddled in the corner, trying not to attract the attention of the gunmen. The student spoke in a whisper, her phone cutting in and out as she provided a play-by-play. Frustrated with their patchy conversation, the anchorman asked the student to either move to a spot with better reception or speak up.

I was planning on writing a column about the ridiculousness of this request, coming up with humorous and inappropriate scenarios in which I would like to ask that anchorman to move or speak up. I felt comfortable poking fun, because in the case of the Cal State Fullerton gunmen, no one was harmed. No one died.

After the shootings in Newtown, I recognized that if I were to mock the poor judgment of a single anchorman now, it would only assist in placing blame on the media for the events in Connecticut. Creating a single scapegoat only prevents us from finding a real solution to this epidemic of extreme violence against the innocent. And we need to fix this.

I didn’t want to write a humor column that cracks jokes or makes light of the tragedy. And to ignore the events of Dec. 14 felt wrong. So here we are.

I grew up in this world of school violence. Columbine happened when I was in high school, and nothing was ever the same. In the months that followed, we had a series of scares that left our student body uneasy. Notice was sent home that coming to school was optional after someone found a diagram of our campus with instructions for a group of gunmen to attack the school. Another time, a student was pulled out of the classroom by police after a hit list was found in his locker. I, along with my fellow students, wondered in morbid curiosity whether my name was on the list. But nothing was as tragic as the time when three students murdered and nearly decapitated a kid who had gone to my high school.

There were times when going to school was scary. Some days, it even felt risky. But I never felt so afraid as I do now that I have a child. We need to fix this.

Last week, I spent an hour at the day care facility where my son will start attending in the new year. I watched the caretakers hold my son, trying to get comfortable with the idea that for eight hours a day, my son will be out of his parents’ protective arms, away from our watchful eyes. It’s terrifying.

As Dec. 14 lagged on, a co-worker of mine invited me to join her in coming up with a list of things that bring us joy. She already was building the list over an Internet chat session with a friend of hers, whom I never have met. The list included puppy snores, footed pajamas, the smell of campfire on your clothes, sledding downstairs in sleeping bags, hot mulled wine, the way a hamster looks when his cheek is full of food, and so on. And I felt overwhelmed by how, in the wake of tragedy, people always come together, even in the smallest of ways — in two strangers contributing to a list to bring a little light to this dreadful day.

After work, I headed to a Christmas party. Inside, people were drinking and laughing and making merry, as people should do during this holiday season, but Connecticut was never far from their lips. Before I entered the party, I asked my husband, who had arrived before me, to bring my son out to my car. For a few minutes, I clutched him tightly, counting his breaths against my chest. Feeling grateful. Oh, so grateful.

We need to fix this.

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