Saturday, April 23, 2016

Another Big Crime

We had another one. A crime that is of the interesting, shocking, stunning genre. Unlike the last one I wrote about, however, I am not laughing at this one. Fortunately, this latest did not happen here in town, but fifty miles away at my Alma Mater, Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. 

It was a shooting. 

At the university.

A professor was killed.

I don't care to enter the politics of all this, but I do want to enter the emotional impact it has had for me. To have some understanding of how and why it hit me as strongly as it did, we need to go back in time a bit.

Unfortunately, I can't remember the specific stimulus, but approximately a year ago something happened here at the Greenwood Center that caused me to ask the question of "What if?" 

What if it happened here?

I made some inquiries, at the time, and was shocked to learn that in the event of an active shooter, we teachers are supposed to lock ourselves and our students in our classrooms. I teach on the end of a lonely hall with an emergency exit thirty-two feet away from my class door in the direction from which a shooter would come. If someone came in with a gun, we would be trapped rats in a barrel waiting to meet our fate. 

My idea was to beat it for the door, as risky as that might be, but that is not the protocol I am to follow. 

I talked with one of our campus police officers about this. I talked with one of the other teachers about this. I thought I talked with the Center Director about this, but she says we did not, so I will take her at her word.

In the process of time, I forgot all about the threat despite periodically hearing about shootings in other places from time to time. I suppose I felt so comfortable with my students and my familiar surroundings that the possibility of something like that just could no longer penetrate my thinking. That is until something, several things actually, shook me out of my lethargy.

The first incident was a blowup in the hallway that took place Thursday, September the 3rd. It was nothing really, or should have been nothing, until the student chose to become combative over someone quietly and gently speaking with her about an infraction. It was shocking is all I will say.

That wasn't all. The very next day of school a normally gentle student had to be removed from the campus in handcuffs by the Greenwood Police Department. Over nothing really. Those two incidents refreshed my knowledge of how volatile people can be. It seems they are becoming more violent and unpredictable by the year. Once more, I began thinking about the whole issue of safety.

So I asked one of the campus police officers what we were to do in the event. The answer was the same: "Look yourself in the classroom." I walked him, once more, to my classroom and showed him the lack of locks on the door. "Slide a desk against the door," was his response. 

Are you kidding me!?!?!?  A twenty-five pound paraplegic could open that door with every desk in the room against it.

"Hide behind a desk," was the next advice he shot my way (pun intended). You would not be safe from a BB gun hiding behind one of those desks.

"We are going to get this taken care of," he assured me.

I know he meant well, but I had heard it before and there is a road somewhere paved with those kinds of intentions.

I then went to the Center Director and requested locks for the doors on that hall. She wanted to know why. I tried to tell her. Next, I sent an email to my division chair requesting the same thing. 

I received a return email from my chair asking me to talk to Chief about the rooms. I talked to Chief and he told me to get the Director to turn in a work order on it. I made the request.

The weekend passed. Then, while we were in Creative Writing, one of the students blurted out, "Active shooter at DSU. One professor dead." I became so agitated I had to leave the room and attempt to recompose myself.

To make a short story long, before the day was over, I had a copy of a work order (which in this institution is merely a request) for locks on the doors. Then I was told that one of the administrators said, "It is up the Maintenance Department."

My head exploded. My life is up to the Maintenance Department? Again, has anyone thought about what this will sound like read back to them in court. The school can't put a lock on our doors but the president can get a $35,000 per year raise? Yeah, you read that right. 

My blood pressure became dangerously high.

Has anyone on campus every wondered what that and all the other responses I have begun collecting and documenting would sound like read back to them in court? It's not socket rience. Think about it!!! They have already shown they don't place as much value on my life as the cost of a lock. I understand that. I do not understand placing the same lack of value on the lives of the students we allegedly serve. Momma will sue if her little baby gets shot up at our school no matter what the school does to protect students. But when she finds out the doors would not even lock. Are you kidding me?!?!? The school will have no defense against an obvious case of negligence. That's so insanely stupid. How can they be this smart? 

Now that there is a dead professor scarcely fifty miles away, maybe something will happen. I'll believe it when I see it.

I have gotten side tracked in my emotions and not told you about the crime. It wasn't an irate student. It wasn't a crazy off the street. It was another professor. What!?!?! Yeah, another professor killed his live-in girlfriend in Gautier, Mississippi (several hours away), and then drove to Cleveland and shot another prof. A day later, after a massive manhunt, the shooting professor was tailed by police, bailed from his car and fled on foot, and then committed suicide when the cops closed in.  

There is more, but I have exhausted myself thinking about all of this.

I wrote this several months back and failed to publish it for obvious reasons. To make a short story long, the school refused to pay for locks, but the building owner did. Sort of. He had installed some little latches that are about as secure as a slice of duct tape. They lock up computers, but we aren't worth two cents to the school. I'm over it. I just hope the school doesn't get sued out of existence when something happens. I suppose I shouldn't worry about that. I won't need a job then.d

I'm through venting now. But it makes me see red when "they" talk about how much they care for us. They show it.

Oh yeah. I was supposed to get a TV in my room last year. I did get the brackets installed. That was October. The TV? Maybe its in the house of an administrator. I teach Film as Literature. If the TV I borrow gets any worse, I will have to verbally describe the movies I want to watch. Every inquiry into where the TV is is met with shock and assurances that something will be done.

Did I tell you about the 5K at the Greenwood Center that the school can't afford? Don't get me started.