Thursday, November 17, 2011

Notes on the Lockdown

When I was about eight years old, my mom, my brother, and I were forced to lie face down on the floor of our local post office by gunmen armed with pistols fitted with silencers.  Maybe this is why I took yesterday's lockdown at ECU seriously.

Maybe it's because I grew up in Los Angeles.  Maybe it's because I have been around responsible gun owners all my life and have been taught gun safety.  Maybe it's because, as a former high school teacher, I have been through lockdown training.  Maybe it's because this picture

looks enough like a man with a rifle slung over his shoulder that I'm glad someone cared enough to call the police.

Maybe none of that matters.

What matters is that this is the world we live in.  People do terrible things to each other.  And while I recognize the openings for debate here, there isn't a whole lot we can do about it.  What we can do, however, is take threats seriously.

I like to believe that I have a healthy sense of humor, but I don't think that any part of yesterday's lockdown was funny.  Yes, it turned out that the man was carrying an umbrella, not an assault rifle, and thank goodness.  But trivializing the situation while it is happening is going too far.  While my students and I sat on the floor, by the cinderblock wall, out of the line of sight of all windows, we read posts on Twitter and Facebook, trying to keep abreast of what was happening.  Out of a stream of 140 or so posts to the local news channel's breaking story about the lockdown, I'd say 70% of them were people fighting with each other about whether or not ECU had sent them an alert email, 20% were rumors about hostages, the number of gunmen, and where the police were, and the remaining 10% ridiculed students and police and noted how stupid people were in general.  Several times, I had to calm my students down.

After we got the all clear alert, another professor asked me what I had done for the close to three hour incident.  I replied that I had sat with my students on the floor of my classroom.  This professor wanted to know why we were sitting on the floor.

I was stunned by this question.  But it did explain why, at about hour two, we began to hear people walking around in the hallway and talking on their phones.  We also heard people in another classroom watching YouTube videos, loudly.  By hour two, enough people had Tweeted and Facebooked and texted and emailed that they were bored with the whole situation.  And, apparently, there are lots of people who don't understand that walking around and making noise during a threat of this kind makes you a target.

I do not suggest that we live our lives in fear.  I do suggest that we practice reasonable caution.  Since I was the teacher, whatever my students' ages, I was in the position of authority.  I felt responsible for their safety.  As such, when the alert came in at 10:11 am, I directed my students to sit on the floor, turned of the projector and the lights, and asked everyone to remain quiet.  They did.

Until the noise from the rest of our floor could not be ignored.  Then my students started to get up, walk around, talk.  What if the umbrella had been an assault rifle?  Closer to my point, no one knew that it wasn't an assault rifle until hours after the all clear.

Maybe I should just take heart from the apparent fact that there are plenty of people who did not believe that the threat to students, faculty, and staff at ECU could possibly be real, and that there are still people out there who don't know what to do in the case of a lockdown. 

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