Reckoning with our inaction

After a student reported seeing a person with a bat and possible rifle on campus, a swarm of police cars sped past the office on the way to McNary High School Wednesday, Oct. 23,. 

The office scanner popped and crackled with sporadic updates from officers and dispatchers. I pulled out my phone to provide my kid, a sophomore at the school, with information I was hearing and explain what they might be seeing. 

As I began typing, I wondered to myself whether it was the right thing to do. I wondered whether relaying information about the potential threat was going to alleviate or ramp up anxiety students would be facing. The first message from Ameya derailed that train of thought. 

Ameya: Why are we on lockdown?

Me: You should be okay. Someone called the police about someone in the parking lot with what looked like weapons. 

They can’t find anybody. It may have been someone joking around or someone misinterpreted what they saw. 

I love you with all my heart

Ameya: Love you too. 

I let them know that there were police in the building checking the halls, when officers made contact with the student who notified 9-1-1 and when it sounded like the lockdown was going to be lifted. 

After it was all over, it took me almost an hour to calm my own nerves and refocus on work. The scare lingered with Ameya much longer. As we drove to school the next morning, they told me they’d made it home from the bus stop as quick as they ever had. Getting to a place that felt safe took priority over all else. 

Earlier this school year, Ameya and I had an two-hour conversation about a violent fight that took place as students headed for buses at the end of the day. The day after that, the paper’s student intern, who also witnessed the altercation, talked to me about the incident and the haunting sound of one student being slammed against a wall. The brief brawl was also captured on video by other students for all to relive until it no longer hurts. 

Not long after calm was restored at McNary last week, I crossed paths with another father whose daughter has attended the same schools as mine for 10 years. I asked if he’d heard about the morning’s scare and he said he’d been texting his kids as well. 

We parted ways agreeing that it’s a different world than the one we grew up in. 

As an elementary school student in the Midwest, the only drills I ever practiced stemmed from tornadoes and earthquakes. In other words, acts of nature. They felt rote to a point and mostly beyond our control. 

The same can be said of active shooter drills to an extent. The odds of someone targeting any given school are remote, and we can be thankful the Keizer Police Department appeared well-prepared to handle a potential threat, but the active shooter drills alone are trauma-inducing for students in a way preparing for acts of nature are not. 

These are a few of the questions I imagine asking myself in the wake of an active shooter drill: Who have I talked to? What did I say? Did my words anger anyone? Am I sure? Who am I certain is a safe person? What happens if I’m wrong? Are we safe at school? Concerts? Malls? Churches? Home? Where am I safe? Why don’t the adults do something to make us safer?

Meanwhile, adults wonder why the kids are spending so much time on their phone. In many ways, it’s a safer way to build connection. 

The young people we are bringing up in the world are not “snowflakes,” either. By continuing to show up – despite external threats ranging from active shooters to climate change – they are proving themselves more resilient than any generation before them. 

There are many paths adults might take to make the world safer for our children, but that is not the point of this writing. There needs to be a reckoning with the rippling fallout the modern world extracts from those living in it. Adults need to accept, and begin acting on, the toll our unwise and too-often poisonous decisions are taking on our children.

The world is different than the one we grew up in, but that should not be the end of the conversation. We are not powerless to change it for the better.

(Eric A. Howald is the managing editor of the Keizertimes.)