The Great Debate

When I was 14, I was visiting my dad’s house for the weekend and sleeping on the couch, which was the normal – I didn’t have a bedroom there. I’m a light sleeper. So it was a surprise that somehow between 12:30 a.m., when I fell asleep, and 7:00 a.m., when my stepmom answered a phone call from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her purse was scattered on the stranger’s front lawn, that the house had been robbed – and the burglar had somehow gotten past me. Three hunting rifles had been taken off of the wall along with a video camera and tripod, and of course, the purse.

The next night my dad took my place on the couch with his handgun in case anyone decided to come back. We used all of my babysitting cash to re-key the locks. But this story demonstrates many points: I grew up around guns (that were never locked up), the hunting rifles made it somewhere into the wide world to be used for who knows what, and that we are a violent society. The cops were surprised I was still alive and unharmed.

Not many years later, when my brother was five and a half, he was given his first gun for Christmas. His first few minutes alone with it and he shot out his bedroom light. I was never given a gun because I was a girl. Mind you, I never felt as if I missed out. But my dad and my brother perpetuated craving violence and guns. Even though I was the one who was on the couch, exposed, they were the ones who wanted to kill, kill, kill. At least, that’s what they projected.

My dad’s own father died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In fact, Dad was the one who found him. Included in the three rifles that were stolen was the one that Grandpa used to do the deed. It had a strange sort of sentimental value that I couldn’t relate to. Who would want to cradle that weapon, and use it over and over, knowing its history?

Fast forward a few decades to when I lived with violent men. One was the guy who grew up in Manhattan in a household whose own siblings stabbed each other. The last day I saw him was the last time I called the cops on him, when he was supposed to be gone at work while I moved my things out of the house we were renting. Instead he was hiding in one of the back rooms and came out when I set down some moving boxes and attacked me. I struggled to get back out to my car in my stocking feet and he was restraining me and pinning my arms, telling me that if I would just do what he told me to do, we would be happy. I finally wrestled free and got in my car and called 911. The responding police officers bought his big-eyed innocent act and told me that if I called them again that I would be arrested.

Then there was the live-in boyfriend who threatened to shoot me – twice. He also talked about taking his guns to work to shoot all of his co-workers constantly. The cops reassured me there was absolutely nothing I could do until he actually followed through and hurt one or all of us. 

Most recently of course was my downstairs neighbor who moved out the last weekend of July, 2017. He used to beat his wife and abuse their cat. Whenever I had visitors I was a nervous wreck, because I had no idea if he would pound down the door while they were here, falsely claiming that we were too loud, or take it out on me later, screaming and raging and dreaming up reasons to call the cops on me. Worse yet he could of course physically pulverize his wife and cat for revenge, just for existing. He was ex-military so I knew it was likely there was a gun or two or seven in his apartment.

So here we are in the U.S. with our easy access to the worst kinds of weapons and ammunition. I am the one who was laying on a couch while a stranger or two crept past me to rob our house; you would think I would fall into the category of wanting a gun for home protection. I grew up around them; you would think I would relax around them. I’ve lived with and around plenty of assholes who have wanted me dead; you would think that I would feel safer armed.

Fuck that.

First of all, we have over 7 billion people on the planet. We are no longer hunting strictly for food supply. Anyone who claims that is an outright liar. And hunting season is so abbreviated that there’s no need to keep guns out for the entire year to make them accessible to every man, woman and child on the planet. Second, home invasions do not happen with the regularity that the NRA has somehow convinced the gun lovers they do. I remember reading from one guy a quote last week that Texas experiences 800,000 home invasions a year. My answer was, “Are you talking about bugs?” I mean, c’mon. If that were true, Texas would be experiencing a mass exodus.

The biggest and hottest debate that has resurfaced is the arming of school staff. I cannot stress this enough, but there are so, SO many reasons why this is a bad idea. Right now I live in the city where Philando Castille was shot. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and told the cops, and was shot and killed anyway. If for some reason some idiots decided arming school staff members would be a good idea, the staff members had better be lily white, because we Americans cannot be trusted to be color blind. Even black cops have proven to have prejudice against black suspects without meaning to.

I posted this article on Facebook regarding an armed officer who never engaged in the shootout that was happening in Florida. He simply hung back while all of those kids were getting shot. I pointed out that if an officer did this, why would we expect teachers to uniformly charge without fear or hesitation, and to act correctly? A friend of 27 years, whom I considered a decently good friend, didn’t like that I used this as an example of why we shouldn’t arm teachers and staff. He also didn’t like that I proposed that we have stricter gun laws regarding background checks, wait times, amount of ammunition sold, amount of ammunition guns could fire, types of guns that could be sold on the market, and age of buyers/operators. He resorted to calling me an idiot. Finally, he just outright blocked me. 

But am I an idiot? I’ve just been trying to stay alive. I have all of this violence swirling around me, and all of these men are insisting that they have a right to violate me. I’m saying no. I will continue to say no. I’m good with saying no.

Lastly, here is a comprehensive list from a woman named Karen Nichols in Ottawa Center, Michigan; she had many questions regarding arming teachers and staff, and did a great job of articulating them:

Which teachers get guns?
Where will the guns be stored?
Who decides when guns can be brandished?
What penalties will apply if teachers mishandle a weapon?
Will teachers volunteer for gun duty?
Can teachers refuse it?
Who will audit their adherence to regulations?
Will students know which teachers have weapons?
Who will be liable if the teacher with the gun becomes the shooter?
What will be the consequences when students are accidentally shot by a teacher?
How will armed teachers communicate in a tactical situation?
Will teachers with a history of mental illness be allowed to use weapons?
Will teachers be required to disclose any history of mental illness?
Will teachers be issued a weapon? Reimbursed for purchase? For ammunition?
How will administrators conduct non-weapon-related discipline against a teacher?
Will there be armed assistance available to deter workplace shootings?
Who will shepherd the armed teacher’s classroom while the teacher is attempting to locate the active shooter?
What happens when a teacher misidentifies a student as a threat in good faith?
Will teachers who do not carry lethal weapons be offered non lethal alternatives?
If an armed teacher is shot, can another teacher employ his or her weapon?
How will armed teachers identify themselves to arriving first responders?
Will armed teachers be required to learn how to give first-response medicine?
Will armed teachers be required to attempt an arrest before using lethal force? Under what circumstances?
Will proficiency training on weapons count for teachers’ continuing education and professional development?
How will insurers adjust health and other rates to account for the presence of armed employees?
Will teachers receive additional pay for being armed?
how often will armed teachers be re-evaluated for licensing purposes?
Will armed teachers leading field trips deposit their weapons in a personally owned vehicle or school-owned transport?
Will one teacher per wing of a school building receive weapons? Two? Three?
Exactly which standards will count for proficiency—greater than a big-city police department, State Police, FBI, hobbyist, marksman?
In training scenarios, how will using force against innocents be penalized?
Will racial sensitivity courses be required?
Do parents have a right to refuse to send their kids to schools with guns?
Will students have to sign waivers? Will parents? What if a parent signs a waiver for a minor student who, when that student turns 18, refuses to abide by its provisions?
Will teachers on probation be allowed to carry weapons?
What about teachers with active union grievances? Complaints about sexual harassment? Anger management? Divorce proceedings?
Will armed teachers wear holsters?
Will they be stationed strategically during pep rallies or other gatherings?
Will they participate in lockdown drills as if they were armed or unarmed?
Will funding for the policies outlined above be distributed according to local budgets, statewide formulas, or national formulas?
Will schools in high-risk neighborhoods receive more or less funding? Suburban schools?
What is the right ratio of armed:unarmed teachers by grade level?
What is the procedure for debriefing and assessing armed teachers’ performance during a crisis?
Can an armed teacher who flinches be fired? Can an armed teacher who breaks protocol be rewarded?
Will preschool teachers have guns?
Will teachers in “juvie” (high risk) schools have guns?
Will the teacher or the school be liable if their gun is stolen?
Can administrators carry weapons? Can they do so in disciplinary situations?

Think about this: I quit playing clarinet after 8th grade because my band teacher was an outright asshole. After I quit, he was fired for punching a student. But let’s give him a gun, right?

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The Tiers of Privilege

Minneapolis and St. Paul feel like very different cities from when I moved away 20 years ago. There was a palpable difference between Minneapolis and Albuquerque; in Minneapolis in 1995, my neighbors were white, black and Hmong (thanks to new policies welcoming large numbers of Hmong refugees from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam seeking a better and safer life), and in Albuquerque, the population was largely white, Hispanic and Native American. I felt as if I had moved to a different continent. The way that people interacted is something I can’t easily describe, except that I learned the “manana” (“tomorrow”) concept from my co-workers the hard way, and was told by employers that I would always be valued because I was a Midwesterner and therefore more “uptight and on time.” The population in Phoenix now closely resembles Albuquerque from 1995 – again, the residents are largely white, Hispanic and Native American. Because the southwest didn’t shift in any obvious way, I didn’t expect the Midwest to either.

When I moved back to the Twin Cities, I was not prepared for the greater diversity in the population, but my traveler’s heart is quite excited by it. A lot of the cab drivers I have had for my medical transportation have immigrated from Somalia, some arriving the same year I left Minnesota, telling me stories about how they excitedly called their relatives back home to tell them that powdered ice was falling from the sky (snow), and their relatives always asked the same question: “For free????” There are also now large Hispanic communities settled especially around the cities where living wages might be available. All of these groups are bringing their wonderful musicianship and dancing and food and willingness to endure countless hardships as strangers in a strange land because they know that turning back is not an option.

Why am I talking about all of this anyway? Well, the U.S. has always been a country of  tiered privilege. The caste system does not only live in India, my friends; it’s alive and well, even here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where we pride ourselves on this appearance of being so tolerant but then have something so stupid/needless/heartbreaking/violating/sickening as the shooting of Philado Castile happen. But it’s not just race that determines where you land in the land of privilege – there’s a lot of “ands” that are the deciding factors.

Let’s start at the top. Your average white dude is the ultimate king of the food chain, born with the silver spoon in the mouth. Guys, you just are. If shitty things happen to you, the system isn’t against you in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” You might want to feel sorry for yourselves, you might want to stomp and cry and try to convince us that you are being picked on and we should feel sorry for you, but I can’t. I can’t.

We can take it down a notch and look at white men who are physically handicapped by a chronic illness. Men are believed faster/more often than women when it comes to pain. Why? Medical sexism. On the tiers of privilege, white men who are in some way physically deemed “less valuable” by society are on a lower tier than ordinary white men.

I’m pretty sure my place is on the next tier down from that. I’m a white woman.

But wait: knock me down a few more rungs, because I’m a white woman who is also physically disabled. Since I’m a woman and I’m physically disabled, I have absolutely no value whatsoever, a “non-person,” specifically. My cane and paralyzed face make me invisible to nearly everyone (and if you don’t believe me, you should walk through a store or down a sidewalk with oncoming foot traffic with me).

But yet…where do all of our friends and neighbors of color fit in?

My Filipino ex-boyfriend was educated and articulate (except when it came to actually being in a relationship – but that’s another story); his status as a man was relatively high, but as a man of color he ranked lower. Unfortunately he suffered from bipolar disorder, so that could be seen as a detriment, but then again, he was believed – his gender saved him from medical sexism. He always claimed that strangers looked at us distastefully when we were out in public. I think he is valued much more than I am, even though he would deny it.

My most recent Native American boyfriend had a much harder upbringing. He grew up on the largest reservation in the U.S., the Navajo reservation on the New Mexico side. Poverty, crime and mental illness brought him into adulthood. He left the rez to get an education, but for one reason or another, he has clung to the the things that have only brought pain and destruction to his life. Where does he fit into this world?

And then there are the women of color who earn even less than the men, who are physically and sexually assaulted, are obviously valued less when they are forced to remain silent in the company of men or to walk a few steps behind them. Add an “and” to them – a physical disability – and really, how much lower can one go in terms of value as far as society is concerned? I startled a Somalian woman in a waiting area once; I carry cough drops and I noticed she was having a coughing fit, so I offered her one. Her interpreter arrived a few minutes after that and she was called back for her appointment, but she made it a point to tell her interpreter to thank me in English. I did not consider it an insult that she did not know how to say it herself when she was on her own, but since I know how the public at large acts more often than not, I could just imagine that even that simple interaction added stress to her afternoon. Like me, she walked with a cane. I wondered how she was treated by her peers and family.

I am always disappointed when I see/hear someone say, “Why don’t they just ____”? as if we are simple creatures and there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. There isn’t. (That’s why they should stop just conducting medical studies on middle-aged white men if they want real-world results. I mean, hey, we finally figured out that heart attacks are worlds apart between men and women!) The most important thing to understand is that just because things look a certain way from where you’re sitting doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. If you can’t see past yourself, then your world is very small indeed.