My son returns to college next week, entering a radically altered world following the tumultuous Summer of Hate. There’s a level of malevolence brewing in this country that I have not experienced in my lifetime. As a black woman, I’ve faced discrimination, suspicion, hostility, and name-calling but this current all-out deadly wilding by angry, disenchanted, young white men is taking on a vicious life of its own.
It’s all too troubling to me: blind hatred spurred largely by some sick, misguided belief that somehow firing bullets into black and brown flesh will Make America Great Again. That cruel reality is forcing my 22-year-old son and millions of other young people of color to be on guard as never before.
The latest shootings―literally aimed at Latinos―has touched home for my son who had once shrugged off guns as just a part of everyday life. Now he’s more aware―and wary―of his surroundings. Not afraid but alert. Woke, if you will. It’s also made him want to speak out on behalf of two of his best buddies who are Latinos.
Domestic terrorism is nothing new in this country.
One hundred summers ago this year, America dealt with a similar public and bloody rage. It was called the Red Summer of 1919. Hundreds of deaths and injuries occurred across America as white supremacists went on a rampage, attacking dozens of cities and communities where black people lived. Black soldiers had returned home from World War I and wanted jobs, equal pay, and decent housing. The skittish labor market didn’t seem to have room for all of its citizens. Riots erupted.
Fast-forward 100 years and domestic terrorism is just as vile. Instead of blacks, the target now seems to be mostly Latinos.
Domestic terrorism has been unleashed on people of color engaging in everyday activities. Back-to-School shopping. A food festival. A night on the town. Nowhere appears safe anymore. These body-armored, assault-rifle-slinging punks have invaded every space of everyday life in public: churches, schools, night clubs, shopping malls.
A memorial for victims of the El Paso shooting.
And now as my son starts his senior year of college, I’m acutely aware of how colleges are part of those everyday spaces. He attends Kennesaw State University in Georgia where it is not unusual to see books, laptops, and guns in holsters in class―and this was before the shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio injured 64 and claimed 35 lives.
Before the updated campus gun laws took effect in Georgia in July 2017, my son said he has seen students lay holstered guns on the desk along with their books and computers. Now the law requires guns to be concealed. (Georgia’s campus carry law does not allow guns in certain areas of campus such as dorms, sports arenas, the childcare center, faculty offices, and rooms being used for disciplinary proceedings.)
During one of his weekend-at-home chats, he told me how one of his classmates—a military guy—lumbered into a science class one day, a gun tucked into his belt holster. Just as I was about to dismiss the incident as a one-time thing, my son added that it wasn’t the first time he’d sat in a classroom where a student had a gun in their holster. In fact, he went on to say that at another college he attended briefly—Gordon State College—he saw people take their holstered guns off their waists and place them on the desk.
In case you’re wondering, faculty members “may not ask license-holders to reveal that they are carrying concealed handguns or in any way discourage them from doing what they are legally allowed to do,” according to H.B. 280, Georgia’s campus carry legislation.
As a black mother, it has not escaped my attention that this summer’s atrocities were committed by young, white men, all in their 20s—the same age as my son. The same age as many of his classmates at KSU where the student body is well over 50% white and the college is in a town that requires its residents to own guns. That’s little comfort to me when I think of my son sitting next to someone with a gun in class.
As long as the nightly news continues to lead with stories and pictures of distraught students and parents sobbing and comforting one another after yet another school shooting, or mass shooting, the issue isn’t so neatly wrapped up.
Nor is it a modern-day phenomenon. Americans have been plagued by school shootings since Nov. 12, 1840, when University of Virginia law student Joseph Semmes shot his law professor John Anthony Gardner Davis. Davis died three days later.
It’s one thing to have some pimply faced, deranged teenager burst into a classroom with an AK and an arsenal of ammunition. It’s another to already have the guns inside the classrooms and your child sitting next to them.
I don’t want to have to grapple with my own what-ifs because I didn’t acknowledge this information. That is why I’m writing this. And writing it now, especially when the nation’s anxiety-quotient has ratcheted skyward with the mass shootings in the last few weeks in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton.
How can anyone—let alone my son—focus on learning with a loaded Glock a few desks away? What if the gun accidentally fell or got knocked to the floor? Would my son’s class be added to the list of college shootings? Pres. Trump’s proposal of arming teachers in classrooms even manages to flit through my thoughts, further fueling my anxiety.
We’re more than 225 days into 2019 yet there’s been some 250 mass shootings already. This fascination with guns, this level of madness has to stop.
One place we can focus on trying to stop it is in the classrooms: elementary, middle school, high school, and college.
If President Trump wants to get an idea of what it’s like living and learning in the land of guns—having actual guns in class—check with the folks at Kennesaw or Gordon or any college in the 10 states that allow concealed guns on college campuses.
If he wants to know what that does to a parent, I’ll be happy to text him my cell phone number. And we can talk.