Tag Archive | "Newtown Shooting"

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Arming Teachers With Guns, Not Wise


By Yohuru Williams, Ph.D.

Last week Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected a controversial plan to arm teachers in Clarksville, Arkansas. While leaving the door open for a new state statute that might authorize such a move in the future, McDaniel disallowed the proposal based on current state law. The plan, like many others, in development and or operation around the nation, was a response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, that claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 adults shortly before Christmas 2012. The massacre plunged the nation into mourning and a long overdue discussion about gun control. In response to the shooting, for instance, NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre called for armed police in public schools. Critics, including a large number of educators, rejected the idea as excessive, unnecessary, and dangerous. The timing of the failed Clarksville measure raises other issue for consideration, however.

At a time when educators in school districts from Illinois to North Carolina are fighting budget cuts and administrative changes that threaten to gut public education, as we know it, the focus on arming teachers is a long way from the type of educational reform and advocacy for which teachers have been asking. The Clarksville, Arkansas plan, for instance, would have required teachers to complete 53 hours of firearms training; at the same time, very little funding is available at the state and national level for teacher professional development in the instructional areas in which they teach.

Yohuru_WilliamsWhile student safety is certainly a priority, the present discourse ignores even the most basic issues related to this question such as how school districts would finance such training or more accurately what present instructional or other programs will be cut in order to support it. A proposal in South Carolina last February to place armed police in every school projected the program to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 Million dollars a year. How can this be the wisest allocation of resources, especially when lawmakers continue to complain about the state of American schools? Much of this dialogue however served as a smoke screen to institute cuts and changes far more injurious to American education, especially in the realm of supporting teachers. In its 2012 Report the-hartford-guardian-OpinionCard on American Education, for instance, the American Education Legislative Council ranked Arkansas 45th in the nation.  One of the factors that earned the state such a low rating was its performance in retaining effective teachers, something that might be exacerbated by dictating  they be armed and trained to shoot people rather than educate them.

To be fair to Arkansas, this is a national problem.  Connecticut scored only slightly higher with a 39 ranking in the same report and received an F, to Arkansas’ C in retaining effective teachers; a weakness identified as a critical need across the board in many states. Too little attention has been paid to the support of teachers as a critical piece of educational reform. In fact, the opposite has been true.  Spending freezes, cuts to special education, and reduced funding for after school programs is the order of the day in most states leaving many teachers frustrated. Efforts to strip away tenure, and pay for advanced degrees, coupled with initiatives to weaken the influence of teachers unions have further undermined morale. Schools are more likely than ever to throw away their greatest asset in educating young people- the women and men, who teach.

Significantly, in June, despite the sluggish economy, the Connecticut General Assembly voted to provide Connecticut districts with the same or more funding under a new two-year plan. In spite of this, Shelia Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, rightly points out that Connecticut schools remain woefully underfunded to the tune of perhaps a billion dollars. She and the CEA have consistently asked legislators to remain focused on the larger issue: how do we identify, create, and sustain viable revenue sources that will ensure that the state will continue to provide high-quality education for all young people? One of the critical answers to the question across the country will involve the recruitment and retention of quality teachers—not sharpshooters. Turning schools into armed fortresses most certainly will not help, especially if financing for such initiatives comes at the expense of critical funding in other areas.

Ironically, lost in the tales of heroism performed by teachers such as Victoria Soto, during the Sandy Hook shooting is the fact that at the core they were teachers. Like all professionals, they spent their time working toward perfecting their craft. What they cared about most was producing well-informed and well-adjusted young people. If we truly want to arm teachers:  load them up with the real ammunition they have been asking for, better pay, quality instructional spaces, and crystal clear standards that they help develop. Perhaps then, we can truly move the needle on education toward the high quality instruction our young people deserve.

In the absence of this type of real reform, we should seriously consider what impact pistol packing instructors and administrators would have on our youth, already awash in a sea of violent movies, music, and culture. Arming teachers sends the wrong message to the people who we claim matter most-young people. Along with access to quality education, they deserve to learn in an environment that affirms humanity rather than privileging fear.  All of the stakeholders, parents, teachers, and school administrators have a critical role to play in making this a reality, but it begins with prioritizing what matters most—delivering quality education, through dedicated teachers, in spaces that highlight our ability to work out our problems free from the resort to weapons.

Yohuru Williams is Professor and Chair of History and Director of Black Studies at Fairfield University. You can follow him on Twitter at @YohuruWilliams

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Will Obama Cry for Inner City Youth?


By David Muhammad

Like President Obama and many others across the country, I too wiped away tears as I watched the horrifying news coverage of the tragic shootings in Newton, Conn. I immediately called my children who were still in school. I sat watching the television trying to fathom how I would respond if I got a call that a shooting had occurred at my children’s school. This brought on more tears. But for the parents of 20 children and six other families in Newton, it wasn’t an exercise; it was an excruciating reality.

I then watched and listened to our President, and like parents around the world, the shooting had affected him emotionally as well. Twenty children gunned down. He struggled to hold back tears.

It was then that my phone buzzed. I quickly grabbed it to see if it was one of my children calling back. But it wasn’t. It was a colleague in Chicago. I had emailed her the day before asking for research into one of the mentoring programs in the city’s schools for youth with the highest risk of being shot.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionShe provided me with the information I was seeking. Then she included a P.S.: “What a devastating horrible day in CT. But frankly I wish people cared this much when it was children on the south and west sides of Chicago.”

I was snapped back into reality with the email. The tragedy in Newtown was truly horrific. But there is similar carnage carried out every day in the streets of America’s cities, especially in the President’s hometown of Chicago, where I work in Oakland, in Philadelphia, and many other cities across the nation.

In 2010, nearly 700 Chicago school children were shot and 66 of them died. Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended a memorial for 260 school children who had been killed in just the previous three years. On several occasions in the past year, tens of people have been shot in a single weekend on the streets of the city. The worst three-day stretch saw 10 killed and 37 wounded in gun fire. But Google the term “Chicago weekend shootings” and the results are far too many deadly weekends to count.

Oakland, Calif. has seen a huge increase in shootings. Last year, three small children were murdered in shootings. The youngest victim hadn’t yet turned 2. Oakland has become the first city in the country to have its police force taken over by a federal court. Because of a lack of resources, the city has one of the lowest police to resident ratios in the country.

Gun violence in America is a pandemic, but there is no round-the-clock news coverage. No national address from the President with tears. No pledge for urgent change.

Why? Is it because the children who die on the streets of America’s cities are black and brown? Is it because they are poor? What makes the victims of everyday inner-city gun violence expendable?

Like the horrendous shooting in Newton, easy access to guns and the challenges of mental illness contribute to the violence on America’s streets. Like the calls for change in guns laws that have been heard following this massacre, so too do we need tighter gun control because of the death and destruction that touches the hearts of mourning mothers in American cities every day.

Speaking at a prayer vigil in Newton, Obama said, “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? The answer is no, we’re not doing enough. And we’ll have to change.”

Mr. President, this is so very true. But it is not only these one-day mass shootings that cause us to cry out for the need to change, but also the daily gun violence that plagues our cities.

“We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true,” Obama said. “No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil or prevent every act, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this.”

We can do better in Chicago, in Oakland, in Philadelphia, and in every city in America.

(David Muhammad is the former Chief Probation Officer of Alameda County in California and the former Deputy Commissioner of Probation in New York City. He now consults with philanthropic foundations on juvenile justice issues)

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Newtown School Shooting Exposes Power, Privilege and Politics of Gun Violence


By Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D.

More than a week after 20-year-old Adam Lanza massacred 20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School, plunging a seemingly bucolic New England town into unspeakable grief, Connecticut still mourns. For some, their pain is tinged with weariness because innocent children in affluent Newtown died and exposed an inconvenient truth: race and class matter.

Indeed, power and privilege are enmeshed with the aftermath of this tragic event on Dec. 14, as evidenced in public discourse. Most discussions lack context, or focus on mental illness, gun rights and media violence. Moreover, blame has been shifted from the perpetrator and onto societal fault lines: easy access to guns, little access to mental health, and overexposure to violence.

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The latest and most deadly school massacre in America, the Newtown mass shooting presents an opportune moment to address these issues, including gun control laws. But unfortunately too much of the discussion has been focused on “assault weapons” with lethal firepower. For example, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) proposed a ban on “high capacity magazines” with more than 10 rounds.

Sadly, many have unwittingly implied that people in urban areas are not violently assaulted by handguns. In fact, some have normalized tragedy in urban communities.

At a town hall meeting at the CPTV Studios on Thursday, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra realized that much and called for an expanded definition of “assault weapons” to include handguns that have killed innocent children and adults in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven for decades. Between 1998 and 2012 in Hartford alone, there has been 700 lives lost to gun violence. And 200 homicides remain unsolved.

Moreover, many residents across the state have been traumatized by gun violence. For instance, in 2001 a bullet disfigured seven-year old Takira Gaston’s face, which needed several rounds of reconstructive surgery. In 2008,  a bullet scraped seven-year-old Tyrek Marquez’s head, and he is now partially paralyzed.  In 2010, bullets shattered the rear view mirror of a car and sliced the finger of a two-year-old boy. And after a weekend of gun violence in June left two dead and many injured, Hartford residents held another round of vigils.

Evidently, handguns create daily carnage in cities across the nation. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, (D-Illinois) lost his son to gun violence in 1999. For decades, he has introduced bills to stem the flow of guns into cities. In January when Congress convenes, he will renew his push with H.R. 6680. In a phone interview on Thursday, Rush said the “Blair Bill” would, among other things, mandate serial numbers on all handguns. He added that most homicides are left unsolved because it is difficult to trace handguns.

Rush represents the first district in Chicago, now the homicide capital of the world. In June, 240 people in Chicago were killed mostly in shootings, according to a New York Times article. And a significant number of the 30,000 Americans who died by gun violence each year are African Americans and Latinos. Not all are criminals. And almost everyone is somebody’s brother, sister, father or child—just like in Newtown.

To the dean of the Illinois caucus, the Newtown tragedy is the latest “wake up call” to address guns and gun violence.

“We’re saddened by what happened in Newtown. But I also know that in Hartford, New Haven, Houston and Los Angeles, blacks and Hispanics are being shot daily,” Rush said. “It was a foregone conclusion that these crimes would not visit wealthy suburban towns. Now, we know that’s not true. Bullets don’t have GPS. And they don’t discriminate.”

As we watch many around the world memorialize 26 people, who died in Lanza’s rampage before he took his own life and the life of his mother, we recognize a familiar truth: some lives are worth more than others. And race and class matter in how the story unfolds in the media and how some politicians address this longstanding issue.

Executive Director of Mothers United Against Violence in Hartford Henrietta Beckman sympathizes with the residents of Newtown. But she is convinced these victims “will get more resources to cope with their loss.”

Additionally, it seems to Beckman and others that Connecticut’s shooting spree might be the seminal moment to regulate access to guns and perhaps improve mental health policies. More Americans are now  “inspired” to do something about gun violence.  And President Barack Obama recently announced an inter-agency panel and appointed Vice President Joseph Biden to address gun violence in our society.

While Congress and state legislators move toward some kind of action, people of color must also seize this opportunity to ensure that their lives matter just as much as those lives in Newtown. Indeed, they must work to improve civil society. Precious lives depend on it.

Photo Credit: wired.com

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The Newtown Tragedy – Is School Security the Answer?


By Anna Challet

Editor’s Note: The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut has renewed national conversations about school safety and gun control. New America Media spoke with investigative journalist Annette Fuentes, the author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes the Jailhouse (Verso, 2011), about security in schools and how to prevent another tragedy. 

NAM: There’s a growing perception that schools are unsafe – will policing schools solve the problem? Will we see more armed security guards and surveillance systems in schools as a result of Newtown?

Annette Fuentes: It’s interesting that in Newtown the reporting indicates that the school already had a large number of safeguards in place, such as security cameras, a buzzer system at the front door, and a serious array of locks to keep intruders out. What trumped all of that was the high-powered weaponry that Adam Lanza reportedly had and used to burst into the school. So if someone has overwhelming firepower, some of it military grade, nothing a school has will be able to prevent them from doing damage and hurting people. So policing and armed guards, even the idea that the NRA has floated of arming teachers and the principal, really won’t prevent tragedies, and really will increase the number of casualties. More policing and more security hardware are certainly not the answer.

I’d like to point out also that at Columbine High School, which I visited for the ninth anniversary of the shooting, the school community decided not to install metal detectors at the entrance to the school, or really beef up the security much more than what they had at the time of the 1999 shooting. And to this day, Columbine does not have metal detectors at its doors, nor do they have armed guards at the entrance.

NAM: What makes for a safe school?

AF: In the research that I did for my book, Lockdown High, I found that the ingredients for a safe school certainly vary depending on the location. But researchers in the field of academic achievement and school safety and discipline have found that the existence of security hardware like metal detectors, security cameras, policing, et cetera, actually can create the kind of climate that increases the likelihood of violence and disorder among students. In other words, if you treat kids as if they’re potential criminals, and create a learning environment that’s more prison-like, they’ll behave in a way that reflects that expectation.

To contrast, there’s a school that I profiled called the Urban Academy on New York’s East Side. It’s an alternative public school for students that did not like the traditional public school model. Many of the students were considered perhaps difficult to manage. The principal did away with metal detectors and some of the usual policing technology that had existed at the school prior to his arrival … He created an environment in the school of trust between teachers, students, parents, and others in the community … It’s a school that does have a security guard, but one who acts more as an advisor and guidance counselor than as a police officer. The Urban Academy model, that has no surveillance or security technology or armed policing, has reported no guns or weapons taken from students and no acts of violence, and has a very high percentage of kids graduating and going off to college.

Safety and security are conditions created by strong leadership that is in control of the school and teachers in control of their classrooms, who have received professional development, who understand the dynamics of working with kids, and who do not resort to some of the traditional strategies of discipline. It’s a completely different paradigm.

NAM: Why do you think people are targeting schools in mass shooting incidents like this? What do you think is the root of this?

AF: The Newtown case is not a Columbine-type or Virginia Tech-type. The gunman was not a student at the school. This was not an example of school violence as people like to discuss school violence. We still don’t know why Adam Lanza targeted this school. The reason that a school can be a target is the reason a workplace can be a target – there have been many workplace shootings … It’s important to separate the location from the overriding condition of gun violence, which can happen anywhere … The shooter was a young man with problems – we don’t know what more there is to it. We don’t yet know why he targeted this school. I’m concerned that people will start talking about school violence, and that certainly isn’t applicable in this case … I’m glad to see the public focusing on the issue of gun control. Newtown is different from any of the other mass shootings, and that includes the theater shooting in Aurora. Newtown has put gun control on the front burner in an unprecedented way, and that’s a good thing.

It’s more than ironic that we have just learned that California’s Teachers’ Retirement System had invested with the equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which owns Bushmaster [a firearms maker]. In essence, the teachers’ retirement system owned part of Bushmaster … The shooting is forcing everyone to look at the business of guns and the dollars and cents behind the very powerful gun lobby, because ultimately it is all about the dollars. When people talk about school safety and school violence, it’s a way to avoid talking about the real issue, which is the availability of guns, especially semi-automatic guns, which are the real threat to students.

NAM: What do you think we should do going forward from Newtown?

AF: I’m heartened that the national conversation in the last few days has really focused on gun control. That is a major step forward from mass shootings in the past. Gun control really is the only way to prevent this kind of horror from happening again. At the same time, it would be a mistake to put energy and resources into making public schools into fortresses, squandering precious tax dollars and limited school budgets on the technology and policing resources that people think make schools and kids safer but that really don’t. The best way to make schools safe is to create trusting learning environments. Certainly an elementary school like Sandy Hook was purely a vulnerable target that could only be made impenetrable with a barbed wire fence or a concrete wall, but that is not the way to educate kids. You can’t educate kids inside a prison. Whatever we finally learn about Adam Lanza, no one could have been safe – he had these weapons of mass destruction at his disposal, in his own home, and that is the scariest part.

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Gov. Malloy Announces A Day of Mourning


HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday  signed a proclamation declaring December 21, 2012 a  “Day of Mourning” in the Connecticut and requested that residents statewide participate in a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m.

Malloy has also requested houses of worship and government buildings that have the capability, to ring bells 26 times during that moment in honor of each life that was taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Let us all come together collectively to mourn the loss of far too many promising lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School,”  Malloy said.  “Though we will never know the full measure of sorrow experienced by these families, we can let them know that we stand with them during this difficult time.”

Malloy has also written a letter to every governor in the United States, asking each state to consider joining  Connecticut on Friday during this time of reflection and mourning.

“Mourning this tragedy has extended beyond Newtown, beyond the borders of Connecticut, and has spread across the nation and the world,” Malloy said.  “On behalf of the State of Connecticut, we appreciate the letters and calls of support that have been delivered to our state and to the family members during their hour of need.”

**Download: Governor Malloy’s proclamation declaring December 21, 2012 a “Day of Mourning”

**Download: Letter to U.S. governors asking states nationwide to participate (Note: Each letter was individually addressed to each recipient)

 

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Letter: Blame For Newtown Shooting Lies Within


Dear Editor:

letterstohartfordguardianIt is difficult to take the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut off my mind.

I think some of the blame for such a heinous crime could fall on the doorsteps of those that are looking the other way.

An inadequate mental health system, an overly obsessed with killing entertainment industry, the stubborn resistance of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to accept a real need for gun control in the US, and the political arena lacking the courage to take a firm stand against the NRA have left America vulnerable to the type of active shooter that springs up out of nowhere to kill innocent people.

Like the first responders in Newtown, Connecticut we all know that we would have given our lives to stop a shooter from firing on innocent children.

 

 Alfred Waddell

West Dennis, MA

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