What a School Lockdown Feels Like
At the time of my ill-fitting classroom stint, I was so busy hating the School to Prison Pipeline that it never even occurred to me to hate guns, but looking back, they were always in the background of my anxiety, hanging over my head with the other million things that hang over teachers’ heads.
I had a class full of third graders the first time I experienced a lockdown. It was almost lunch so I had that next-level needing-to-pee that teachers know so well. We were just getting ready to line up when the announcement came. They said there had been gun activity in the area. They told us that we were supposed to lock our doors, but mine didn’t lock. I’d never been trained for the proper procedure, so I sat the kids all down and told them to be as quiet as they could so we could be safe if we needed to hear directions.
I pictured what I came to always picture in those situations: the bullet coming through the glass and hitting me, or hitting them. I never forgot that I while at that moment I was trapped, on a daily basis I was choosing to be there, and the kids were not so lucky. Poverty would keep many of them in an unsafe neighborhood, the law and a racist system would keep them in unsafe schools that violently opposed their individuality and development. They might someday know a life without the penny taste of adrenaline in their mouths, but the odds were stacked against them.
We sat crisscross-applesauce at the back of the room, as removed from the window glass as possible. They were preternaturally calm and docile, and I had an uncharacteristic command over myself that I can only attain at times of deepest crisis. We played Whisper-Down-the-Lane and The Quiet Game until the lockdown ended and it was time to line up for lunch.
I experienced maybe ten school lockdowns, for all kinds of reasons—a lost kid, a panicking parent, mostly they were unexplained and I never asked because I didn’t want to know. But the helpless bullet-is-coming-for us feeling did not fully go away. Those left me with an unshakeable knowledge of the vulnerability of all life, but especially the lives of African American children. The confluence of guns, poverty, and racism put the lives of my students at risk every day.
I understand, in a cursory Hamilton-infused way why we have the Second Amendment, but the cost of the way it is currently interpreted is much too high. Those kids, those classrooms, along with the children I currently serve at the library, are part of the driving force behind why I feel so urgent about this election, so moved by John Lewis and other who stand up for gun control and against injustice. Enough.