Columns

Murder in the school

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, February 23, 2018

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Imagine if you had migrated to 'the States', as we call it, taking your teenagers with you, and enrolled them in a school, which had the reputation of being one of the best in the area. Not everything is perfect, but the neighbourhood school has been noted for high quality. It provides its students with academic instruction, skills training, recreational activities, and sports as well as outreach activities. How would you deal with evil intruding in the midst of such a place of learning?

In a public school in Broward County, Florida, hell broke loose on Valentine's Day when a well-armed young man, who had been expelled some time before, returned with a high-powered weapon. By the time the student completed his gruesome mission of firing his gun, 14 students and three teachers lay dead.

It was later made public that the 19-year-old had suffered from mental illness. After his massacre, he walked away from the destruction he had caused and was captured on a sidewalk not far from the scene of the slaughter. On a day dedicated to love, he had delivered evil and death.

The school and surrounding community of Parkland where the grim event occurred has become the focus of media, politicians, angry parents, students, and others. The state of Florida, among other places, is in turmoil. This is not the first mass shooting to occur at a school in the US, but this time the reaction has been different.

Continuing reports every minute, every moment, on the USA mainland show students and parents swelling with rage and swamped with tears demanding that things change. The heart of the news is the reaction of students who, youth or no youth, have declared their intention to speak up to political leaders, expressing their anger and disgust at how the murders could have happened. They are questioning the availability of weapons of destruction.

The US has been engaged for some time now in arguing over the politics of control of the weapons of destruction, which have been taking lives of all ages and are still enshrined in their law. Here in JA we have experienced the violence brought on by imported instruments of evil. We, too, fear the guns that have caused our murder rate to soar.

In the aftermath of the shooting in Florida young people are on the march, calling for better means of protecting schools and students. Will they succeed?

What if young people in our land were to march against gun violence in Jamaica, what would be the response? Would our young people be permitted to speak up about the evil which they have seen and, like the young Americans, seek justice from their elders?

Idle talk or confused youth?

Earlier this week, here in Jamaica, a voice note recording was circulated. It came from a teenaged boy, a student of a prominent Kingston high school. The youngster, who seemed to be carrying many emotional burdens, suggested that a mass shooting like what happened in the US should or could happen in a Jamaican school. The youngster apparently felt as if he had no friends and people who he tried to reach out to were not responsive. As a result, he wanted to issue a wake-up call. The recording quickly spread, alarming those who heard it.

The police took swift action and the youngster and his parents were brought in for questioning to find out whether it was a real risk or just idle talk. The authorities at the school have since begun discussions about school safety and how to deal with students who need emotional and psychological help.

A question for parents, especially, is whether we are keeping check on the mental and emotional status of our children. Are we aware of what our children are going through in these difficult times?

IN THE HANDS OF SOCIAL MEDIA:

The response to the unusual message has caused reflection on what we do with social media. This was supposed to be an avenue to “keep in touch with friends and family”; I send you a greeting, you post your latest family photo — together, we would maintain happy friendships. Somehow, this has become something else and, despite words like “friends” and “likes”, there are very troubling antisocial matters borne out via social media.

Many people have become mindless in how they post photos of car crash victims, violent fights, children being physically and sexually abused, etc. This has become a popular attempt to be in the middle of “whatta gwaan” with no thought of how it could affect the persons or families involved.

The incident of child abuse that went viral a few weeks ago didn't originate in Jamaica; however, it found its way to our shores and spread like the proverbial wildfire. The people who sent it along, without thought, disregarded the fact that possessing and distributing child pornography is a criminal offence. So, whether you were sharing it to express outrage, or out of sick curiosity, it is still a crime.

The Child Development Agency and law officials suggest that anyone who seem to believe that “dem nuh do nutten” when they circulate these videos or images had better learn what is “fun” and what is illegal. Get real, the law don't joke!

A few weeks ago a man found himself in a courthouse for threatening to send embarrassing information and photos of his ex. His threats were reported and the police investigated, arrested and charged him under the Cybercrimes Act. The authorities are getting a handle on the matter, but what are we doing to protect each other from some of the less than positive things floating around on social media? Are parents teaching their children how to take care in the virtual world? Mind what you post and share. Some of your friends have other intentions. Are we making sure they aren't being bullied or being bullies to others? We need to think about it seriously.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@yahoo.com.

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