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Police in American Schools?

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Columbine had an armed guard. Virginia Tech had a Police Department. Ft. Hood is a US Army post.

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For almost six years, I had an office at 29 Garden Street in Cambridge, MA adjacent to the offices of the Harvard University Police and Security Department. In 1986, I functioned as the university's liaison officer to US Department of State communications personnel on the occasion of the visit of the Secretary of State to the university during its 350th anniversary celebration. HUPD works at having a good dignitary protection unit. In 1987, Nicaraguan Contra leader Adolpho Calero was invited to speak at Harvard Law School. By the standards of the day, security was tight because there was anti-Contra sentiment among some students. I watched three HUPD plain clothes officers step in front of Calero and intercept a Tufts University student who jumped up, ran across the desk tops, and launched himself at Calero, screaming like a wild man as he ran. The three officers literally caught the student in mid-air. His feet never hit the floor as the officers, one under each arm and one holding him by the seat of his pants, carried him out of the hall. Two other officers escorted Calero out another door. The whole thing lasted less than 30 seconds. Chief Paul Johnson was standing by, looking on. I'll never forget his nonchalant demeanor or the little smile of satisfaction he allowed himself as he watched his officers efficiently, effectively, and nonviolently dispose of the threat. None of the newspaper accounts captured the professionalism of the officers and their Chief or the drama of the moment, certainly not the over-rated "newspaper of record."

In today's world, it seems likely the Tufts student who threw himself at Calero in 1987 would be Tasered, zip-cuffed, and charged under one terrorism statute or another.  Not that there is any pressing need for any of that, obviously, but the technology is available and sending a chilling message to other activists is deemed important, even at the risk of serious injury or death.  According to Wikipedia: "The head of the U.S. southern regional office of Amnesty International, Jared Feuer, reported that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser between June 2001 and October 2007, which has already been documented. He also noted that about 80 percent of those on whom a Taser was used by U.S. police were unarmed. 'Tasers interfere with a basic equation, which is that force must always be proportional to the threat,' Feuer said. 'They are being used in a situation where a firearm or even a baton would never be justified.' "

Personally, I think having police officers in schools is a good idea at this point. It's more than unfortunate that our society has become so damned violent that children are no longer safe in their schools and fire-fighters responding to house fires are sniper targets, but there it is. (In the wake of the murder of two first-responders by a sniper in upstate New York, one wonders if the NRA's Wayne LaPierre will recommend that fire trucks be equipped with machine guns, accompanied by SWAT teams, cars full or armed NRA members, or, perhaps a platoon of National Guard infantry.)  Some schools need law enforcement on site, and it's impossible to predict where the next massacre attempt will occur. Anyone who understands our country also understands that police protection in any school is only going to be as good as the department providing the protection, and no two departments are alike, just as no two municipalities are alike. You're going to get pretty darn good protection in Iowa, not so much in, for instance, Texas, which has a different gun culture, a different law enforcement culture, and some ass-backwards ideas about education.

During the NRA's press conference after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, LaPierre blamed gun massacres on media violence and computer games among other factors. That's a first. That they are now willing to point a finger at Hollywood and the entertainment industry is a strong indication of just how desperate NRA executives are. As it happens, LaPierre is correct to place blame on the entertainment industry's violent and socially-destabilizing products, especially video "shooter" games, many of which award points for "kills" and teach kids how to acquire targets quickly, aim accurately, and fire effectively, at the same time desensitizing them to murder and mayhem. So, finally, evidence of a split between the Hollywood gangsters who profit directly from violent media product, and the NRA, which is a firearms industry front group that profits indirectly from violent media product. The former shelter behind the First Amendment, the latter behind the Second Amendment. Neither group deserves the Constitutional refuges they have abused so flagrantly and with such tragic results.

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Violence is central to American popular culture and gun violence is epidemic in the USA in large part because violence is central to the entertainment industry's most lucrative revenue streams. Where do American boys and men get the information that shapes their attitudes about violence in general and gun violence in particular? We get that information primarily from the entertainment industry, from screens large and small, from television, movies, and video games, screens that are filled with shooters. At Heath High School in West Paducah, KY on December 1, 1997, fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a group students at a prayer meeting killing three and injuring five.  Carneal, who had never before fired a weapon, was avid gamer who learned his shooting skills playing shooter video games.  Likewise, an Associated Press report by Katie Zezima notes that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, Adam Lanza, was a gamer who often played shooter video games. 

"Research has associated exposure to media violence with a variety of physical and mental health problems for children and adolescents, including aggressive and violent behavior, bullying, desensitization to violence, fear, depression, nightmares, and sleep disturbances. Consistent and significant associations between media exposure and increases in aggression and violence have been found in American and cross-cultural studies; in field experiments, laboratory experiments, cross-sectional studies, and longitudinal studies; and with children, adolescents, and young adults. The new Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard lists more than 2000 research reports. The strength of the association between media violence and aggressive behavior found in meta-analyses is greater than the association between calcium intake and bone mass, lead ingestion and lower IQ, and condom nonuse and sexually acquired HIV infection, and is nearly as strong as the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer--associations that clinicians accept and on which preventive medicine is based without question." --from the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Media Violence
The Second Amendment was designed to ensure that the nation and its people could protect themselves against enemies foreign and domestic. It was not intended for use as a shield by firearms industry corporations and their lobby to gain wildly inordinate political power and the ability to corrupt public servants and purchase legislation harmful to public health, public safety, social stability, and good government.  The last thing I would do would be to let the NRA have any significant role in any plan to provide law enforcement or security guards at the nation's schools.   Until Americans figure out how to choke off the deluge of violent media product the entertainment industry pumps into American popular culture with criminal abandon, America's school children, their teachers, and school administrators will continue to be at risk--unacceptable risk. The First Amendment free speech clause was intended to protect the rights of individual citizens against government censorship. It was not intended to shield huge, influential, and enormously powerful media conglomerates that produce, mass market, and profit directly from lucrative, socially-destabilizing products that incite violence, train children to shoot and kill remorselessly, and cause unnecessary tragedy, terrible loss, and unimaginable human misery.


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Michael Gillespie writes regularly for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. A 1999 graduate of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Iowa State University, he was inducted a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national (more...)
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