They grew up knowing school shootings to be a common occurrence. Lockdown drills were just part of normal life. Now, columnist Nicole Brodeur thinks, this upcoming group of young people may be the ones who can drive shifts in politics around guns.
Did you see her? I can’t forget her.
I don’t even know how Lori Alhadeff was able to stand on two legs after making arrangements to bury her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, one of the victims of Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
But there Alhadeff was, pleading, screaming for change.
“President Trump, please do something,” she pleaded. “Do something! Action! We need it now. These kids need safety now!”
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When his turn came before the cameras, Donald Trump didn’t even mention guns.
Instead, he pledged to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” — even though, last February, he revoked a regulation that required the Social Security Administration to disclose information to the national gun background-check system about certain people with mental illness.
The Lockdown Generation may be the one to change all this.
It will be these kids — the ones who have looked up from their books and papers to see teachers locking the classroom door and turning out lights — who will grow up and vote out the politicians who made a scramble for safety a regular part of their childhoods.
It will be these kids — the ones who grew up always expecting the worst, and far too often witnessed it — who will seek out and elect politicians who put self before service, and don’t take blood money to keep cozy in their offices.
These kids are the ones who truly know what political lethargy and greed have wrought. They have seen it and heard it, recorded it on their phones, texted it to their family members, recounted it time and again for reporters and television cameras.
Through them, we heard how loud the gunshots are, what it’s like to lie beside a lifeless classmate or crouch in a closet and whisper love and goodbyes.
It happened here, in June 2014 at Seattle Pacific University, where Aaron Ybarra killed student Paul Lee and wounded Sarah Williams; and at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in October of that same year, when four students were fatally wounded by Jaylen Fryberg, who then shot himself.
Last year, Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, sponsored a revision to a bill, first passed in 2008, that required monthly school-safety drills.
Previously, the law required one drill for earthquake safety that includes drop, cover and hold; one for “shelter-in-place,” to limit student and staff exposure to hazardous materials; three fire drills and “one other safety-related drill to be determined by the school.” Say, a pedestrian-evacuation drill for schools in mapped tsunami hazard zones.
Pettigrew wanted stricter requirements so that, if disaster hit, school districts could become eligible for federal assistance.
“I was thinking earthquakes, fires, things that in a second can make a difference between surviving and not surviving,” Pettigrew said, adding that his district includes Pioneer Square, which was hit hard by the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.
But when the bill came back, someone amended it to include another type of drill: “‘Lockdown,’ used to isolate students and staff from threats of violence, such as suspicious trespassers or armed intruders, that may occur in a school or in the vicinity of a school.”
Pettigrew had mixed feelings about the amendment to the bill.
“I thought it made sense,” he said. “If we can minimize the loss of life and injury, if we can increase the odds of survival in a violent situation … ”
“Which is a crazy way for anyone to live,” he said. “Especially kids.”
The bill passed unanimously.
So, in a decade, schools went from preparing for fires, or earthquakes, or bears or cougars that might wander down from the hills nearby. Their drills were based on geography.
Now, they’re also based on sociopathy.
One colleague told me that his kids had experienced about a dozen school lockdowns in their lives. They saw an actual shooting once while they were outside, at cross-country practice. One suspected gang member shot another in the shoulder right in front of them. They were pulled inside while the police sorted out the scene.
My son recalled lockdowns when a man with a hatchet killed another man a couple of blocks from his school; and when a suspicious-looking package was left outside the door of the adjacent synagogue.
“One of the most chilling parts is how calm everybody is during these things,” my son recalled.
I hope that’s not because they’ve gotten used to it.
Parkland has shown us otherwise, Pettigrew said. If there was a bright spot in what happened there, he said, “It was having the kids as upfront and verbal as they are.
“I really think, and I am hopeful, that more so than any group, they will become a longer term, active part of trying to change politics.”
I hope they will become as angry as Lori Alhadeff.
But instead of calling for action, they take action themselves, and make childhoods in lockdown a lesson no one else will have to learn.