The New Theater Of Response

Saturday, 25 May 2013, 8:52:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

On Thursday, May 16th, our city unfortunately got the chance to implement full cautionary measures against a potential campus shooting threat.  On that day the Santa Monica Police Department received a message from LAPD that a male subject claiming to be a student at Santa Monica College had called 911 and threatened to shoot up the school and kill himself.  It might be understatement to say that all involved took the threat seriously.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that at least a dozen schools were put on lockdown as a precaution. The caller had made references to several schools located in the City and County of Los Angeles, as reported by The Mirror.  SMC was immediately evacuated and 10 elementary and middle schools in our area were involved in the precautions.  There’s little question that the response, characterized in the LA Times as “massive,” reflected new vigilance following the Newtown and Boston Marathon tragedies.

Intersections were blocked, patrols were initiated, and 90 minutes after the phone call was made the suspect was arrested after turning himself in at SMC Psychological Services.  He reportedly viewed a mass message sent out to SMC students regarding the threat and knew the lockdown was in connection to him.  He did not have a gun when arrested, but he did have our worst fears in his head when he made that phone call.

Our city, our students, our children were ultimately all blessed by the fact that the incident resolved itself as more of a mental illness outburst than something much worse.  But that doesn’t mean that damage wasn’t done.

From the LA Times coverage of the story: “Across the street from East L.A. College on Thursday morning, Kaz Tsujimoto and his wife had just left pre-school at Robert Hill Lane school with their twin 4 year-old boys held tightly in hand.  The couple said they were terrified when they heard about the threats. They called the preschool and were told all the children were inside and on lockdown.”

It boggles the mind to imagine the scene had NRA spokes-donkey Wayne LaPierre somehow showed-up to explain to those parents and their four-year-olds what they should take away from their experience that day.

Would he have reiterated his “good guy with a gun” philosophy? Would he have taken any responsibility for the just-proven fact that easy access to guns had contributed to the nightmare morning they had just experienced? Would he actually reassure the family with the suggestion that armed personnel at their preschool would have added a level of security that might have lessened in any way the trauma the entire family had just suffered?

This May 16th event in our own city now becomes yet another sharply focused snapshot of the gun crisis in the times we are living in. What do we see when we study that picture? We can certainly praise law enforcement for a response that was breathtaking in its fullness and speed. We might even be thankful for our digital media, since it was an e-mail that connected to the suspect’s agonized brain and caused him to give himself up.

What we can’t deny is that we will now live with police perimeters and lockdowns at schools as the result of guns befouling life in America and that the escalation of this pollution of our society is increasingly becoming business as usual.

Was fear ever this close and immediate to our children? Those of a certain generation will recall that there were years when school children were regularly drilled on how to prepare for a nuclear attack. In those ludicrous exercises, children were taught to “duck and cover” and get under their wooden desks in the event of nuclear war.

It might be informative to recall the memories of those times and compare them to our current situation. Then as now, there were those who vehemently argued that you just couldn’t remove the threat. Then as now, they told us that the forces in play were unstoppable and argued that we had to live with those fears as a product of our times.

Far from containing the threat of nuclear war since then, we find ourselves still haggling over whether weapons that can destroy entire nations are ‘in the right hands.’ Sickeningly, it’s not that far removed from the NRA’s view of our future with guns.

Perhaps all of life eventually proves to have a sad irony from which we are never free. Last week a scientific breakthrough was announced that appears to open wide the door to the use of stem cells to grow new human organs and tissue to save lives. Yet at almost the same moment our own Congress shamefully ignores our clearly stated desires on reducing the loss of life from guns.

I will admit that it takes very little courage to type up one’s outrage over this kind of irony. What does require courage is changing the paradigm; the one in which we ask our children to hunker down in their schools and show more strength in the face of our gun crisis than we ourselves are showing in removing the fear from their lives.

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