kids and violence

it’s not just after school anymore

My high school years were easy.

I’m just saying this now, so that if I have kids someday and they are in high school and they start talking about their day I never say to them, “Oh, it’s just high school.  Everyone goes through it.  It’s nothing.  You think you have it bad, you should have gone to my high school.”

Because the school I went to then is nothing like the school that stands there now.

I look at all these school shootings and I of course wonder what it is that makes these kids go in and kill.  I remember when I got close to violence in school:

At my junior high there was a lot of gang activity and many of the kids had been flunked because they didn’t know how to read, so there were many older kids in the halls that had guns and would fight between classes.  They would wear washcloths sticking out of their jeans and that meant that they had a weapon and you shouldn’t mess with them.  Being a quiet geek kid, we never exchanged words.  But I remember being scared, and being careful not to walk the wrong way down the hall.

My first day at a new school when I moved to Texas I was putting my books in my locker when a boy came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me around.  I was thirteen.  He said to me, “You know, we’ve got a lot of KKK here, so I wouldn’t walk around with that hippie peace sign around your neck.”  He held my necklace in his hand and then looked me in the eyes, “But you’re a blue-eyed blonde, so they probably won’t fuck with you.”

They didn’t.

But they were in my high school.  Kids who shaved their heads and carried copies of Mein Kampf (but never read a word of it).  They talked about hating “The Jews” and “The Blacks”, but if you asked them if they’d ever met someone of the Jewish faith they’d say, “No, and they better hope I never do.”  Why were they acting this way?  One of the boys was my neighbor, and when the bus would drop him off in front of his house, it all was so clear.  The confederate flag hanging in his driveway was enough.  “His daddy is in the KKK,” others would say with a whispered awe.

I thought it was all talk, until they actually killed someone.

It was a boy I didn’t know, but many of my friends did.  I couldn’t find the story online.  It happened too long ago.   He was killed by a group of these guys– beat up in the street.  They stomped his head open with their combat boots.  “Go back to your country,” they shouted at him.  The Vietnamese-American boy screamed back, “I’m sorry I ever came to your country.”

And I think the boys got probation for the killing.  I was sitting on the bus with one of the “KKK” and he said to me, “You know, I’m hanging out with (insert-killer’s-name-here) today.  He’s not even supposed to be in the city limits.  Just because he killed some g—.”

It happened when I was in high school, but no one talked about it.  And when no one talked about it, it went away, just as everyone hoped it would.  It was in a Sassy magazine article.  There were pictures from the funeral.  I knew people in the photos.  But no one talked about it.

Because it didn’t happen at the school.

Back then when you had a problem with someone in the school, you waited until after school to get them.  One of my friends was beat up on our school bus.  We had a substitute bus driver that day, and she just kicked my friend off the bus– his head bleeding from being smashed up against the emergency door.  She drove off, and other friends called an ambulance to get him to the hospital.

The next day when we got on the bus for school, his blood was still on the bus walls.  No one was talked to, no one was punished.  Nothing happened.

“Kids will be kids,” right?

But the dangers weren’t in the school itself.  Of course you had fights in the hall.  But they were only fist fights, and the teachers would let them get out some steam and then take them to the office.  They got detention, and everything cleared over.  My friend eventually became friends with the guys who beat him up (I still don’t really understand that…)

Once I left the school and my sister was still there, things started changing.  They had surveillance cameras up in all the halls.  Everyone had to wear identification.  I wasn’t allowed to enter the school to pick up my letter jacket because they were getting bomb threats every day and I had to have a teacher escort me to one of the classrooms.  It was like a prison.  I had to get visitation rights to see my old theatre room.

When I first started high school parents were terrified about Satanic violence.  A gang had been found skinning cats in the neighborhood and to prevent that kind of violence a school dress code was enforced.  We couldn’t wear black three days in a row.  No symbols were allowed to be worn except for the cross (this included the Star of David).  Your hair had to be kept out of your face.

But that boy was still murdered six months later.

My sister has had friends of hers murdered by other kids.  I can’t imagine what that’s like.  It’s strange, because when you talk to her or her friends they have such an apathetic tone to it all:  “He shouldn’t have been talking shit.”

You have such an immortal feeling when you are that age.  You talk all the time about wanting to die, wishing so and so was dead, plotting revenge… hell, I myself wrote stories about torturing classmates who teased me about things.  But I never wanted to kill.  I didn’t know how.

No one ever taught me to fire an automatic weapon.  No one ever gave me access to one.

I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go to high school now.

The Trenchcoat Mafia is getting labeled as a “goth gang.”  I feel bad for all the goth kids out there.  Terrorism isn’t what goth is about.  For God’s sake, goth kids are just kids who feel they don’t fit in so much they all just think about themselves and their situation.  These kids who went into that school yesterday– it wasn’t about being goth.  It was about racism and being angry and violent and having the opportunity to act out that aggression.  Someone gave them those guns.  Someone gave them the ammo.  Someone looked away while they made bomb after bomb.  I couldn’t even hide a diary in my room without someone finding it– how did they hide the bombs?  Who teaches these kids these racist ideas?  My memory goes back to seeing that confederate flag outside that boys house and the look on the boys’ faces when we passed it.

And it’s boys doing this.  Only boys.  Has anyone noticed that?  Little boys.

You can’t change the school.  It’s not the school.  It’s the kids inside.  It’s the homes they come from.  It’s the morals and ideas they learn.  Students at that age listen to their friends, then their parents, and then their teachers.

It makes me not want to be a parent.  It makes me not want to be a teacher.  It makes me so angry I don’t even know what to do.  I just sat there watching CNN yesterday for hours.  Because I wanted to understand.

Every day I drive through this city and every day I pass by a reminder of school violence.  The tower.  Yeah, that tower.  Senseless violence.  But we understand it because he left a note and he had a tumor in his head.  It doesn’t dismiss it, but we understand it.

It starts at the home.  It has to.  A ten year old doesn’t instinctively know how to shoot a weapon.  An eleven year old doesn’t understand what death is.  The finality of it all.  The amount of people that it touches.  And I don’t know how to teach that to someone.  I don’t know how to watch them all.

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