Today is April 20. Five years ago I came home from school and my mother was crying. There was a shooting, she said- at a school in Douglas County.
And so it began, the media blitz, over and over again, pictures of young kids trembling, crying, holding eachother, trying to recover. There were metal detectors at our prom. There were vigils and speeches and calls for action.
It was one of those events you don't forget. Or do you?
What is terrorism? It is what makes us feel like our world is caving in, that the balance of evil and good has tipped in a terrifyingly wrong direction. But big events of terror often fail to make us truly look into the reasons for the evil, the realities that we perpetuate that indirectly cause children to kill or the faithful to martyr.
In response to the terror of April 20, 1999, we heightened security. We stripped students of their privacy. Schools mandated clear plastic backpacks, random mandatory locker searches, metal detectors, cameras, police officers.
In response to September 11, 2001, we heightened security. We regulated carry-ons for airline passengers. We mandated spy software for e-mails. We profiled.
We treated the symptom, and not the cause.
The war against school shootings has cooled, and we have been fortunate to avoid another Columbine. But we remain in a similar quandry as we do with the 9-11 tragedy. We can't quantify threat- so it is difficult to say whether children in schools are actually safer or whether we're long overdue.
The notion of random acts of violence is a false one. These events were not random. They were due to a long string of strategic moves and ideological drive. Erik Harris and Dylan Klebold thought they were avenging wrongs and performing a righteous act. They wanted to sacrifice themselves to make people take notice, to inspire change. And in some ways, nothing has been the same. But in many ways, everything is still the same.
People fear what they do not understand, but what's more, they do not attempt to understand. These boys did not act randomly simply because of a taste for blood. They were just tweaked enough to feel as if they were acting nobly in reaction to ignoble acts on the part of their peers.
When the shooting happened, they tried to make it sound like the kids were pure evil. They wore black. They belonged to the "gothic street gang"-- right. They listened to German death metal. But I knew what it was like to be one of those kids- to be brutalized, to be hurt, inside and out, and further, to be ignored when I brought these hurts to the attention of administrators. It would be an exaggeration to say that acting as those boys did is a small deviation from relatively normal teenage drama. But I have to say that I know what it was like to reach the breaking point. Luckily for me and many others, I had a supportive, attentive family. But I was lucky.
None of those kids deserved to die. But the sick part is that it took something as devastating as Columbine to bring people to the realization that bullying is not okay. And still, we are not treating the cause. Bullying continues. It still happens. And it is still ignored. The only difference is that now it can be captured on tape by the surveillance cameras. Surveillance systems costing up to 80 thousand dollars. 80 thousand dollars which could have been spent on textbooks and supplies. As far as I know it costs nothing for a hall monitor to get in the face of a bully who goes too far. As far as I know it costs nothing for a principal to call in the parents of a kid who humiliates someone else. But as far as I know, plenty of administrators are still turning the other way even when such behavior is very, very present.
Terrorism in all its forms is like a pandemic. Treatments only cause it to mutate, to change properties, to adapt. Surveillance cameras won't stop bullying, and so surveillance cameras are helpless against school shootings. Columbine had cameras. So now we have live footage of the actual event to treasure for eternity.
And by the same token, prohibiting sporks on airliners will not stop the fundamental ideological rage that causes terrorism. We may have eliminated the threat of people hijacking airplanes and commandeering them into buildings. But since we didn't see that one coming (well, that's up for debate) who knows what will happen next? Terrorism proves that necessity is the mother of invention and while we can keep eliminating the means, we cannot eliminate the drive. In fact, by declaring a war on terror, we only serve to further deepen and widen the anger the Muslim world holds for us. Before, we were just infidels. Now, we are crusaders, murderers of women and children, ideologues, imperialists. To high school kids facing humiliation and torture from bullies everyday, we are willfully blind, turning our back on them while we install more metal detectors. Perhaps we will never fully eliminate that rage. But why must we exacerbate it?