End violence in schools
Author ND Gomes reflects on the reasons she wrote her new Amnesty-endorsed novel for teens, Dear Charlie.
‘Dear Charlie I’m sorry it’s taken me seven weeks to write this. Honestly, I still don’t know why I am. It’s not like you will ever get to read it. It’s not like you will ever know how I am feeling. I can’t change anything, certainly not the past couple of months. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget. I’ll never be able to forget.’
From ‘Dear Charlie’ by ND Gomes (Harper Collins Publishers, October 2016)
Gun crime, especially among adolescents, has never been more prevalent than it is now. In 2014, a study conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that active firearm incidents in the United States had increased more than 150% between 2007 and 2014, and that 70% of those incidents occurred in either a school or a place of commerce, such as a shopping mall. The study also concluded that, in the majority of school shootings, the shooter is in fact a student at that school - someone who walked the hallways with their peers, sat beside them in class, and eventually pulled a gun on them.
Although the prevalence of school shootings is substantially lower in the UK than in the United States, the country’s deadliest mass massacre occurred in a school. And not just any school - a primary school. How do we even begin to prepare for that?
I decided to write ‘Dear Charlie’ after working for more than seven years in the public education system in the U.S. as a special education teacher, where we are constantly reminded of this tragic threat. I will never forget the day - December 14th, 2012 - when I learned of the shooting at a primary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. We immediately brushed the dust from our safety manuals and practiced an active-shooter lockdown drill. All the classrooms doors were locked; the lights were turned off; and the students hid with their teachers under the desks. It only lasted four minutes, but the drill that day gave me a brief and horrifying glimpse of what those children and teachers must have gone through in Sandy Hook.
Public schools have since undergone a series of security updates, including increasingly stringent active-shooter lockdown drills. Classroom doors are locked during school hours, windows are covered with paper or fabric, identification badges are adorned, and exit strategies followed for every classroom. But as I watched security cameras be fit in the hallways and extra locks being installed on all of the doors, I could not help but think: is this preventative, or merely reactive? And if reactive, is that really enough?
Because as we know, the majority of these school shooters aren’t outside the school - they’re inside the school with us.
So in order to make an impact, should we not be doing more to understand who these shooters are, and why they resort to such violent behavior? The media often depicts them as depressed, withdrawn loners - video-game or horror movie enthusiasts. But I want readers of ‘Dear Charlie’ to understand that the individuals who perpetrate these crimes are so much more than that. They are brothers, sisters, friends, and classmates. So let’s figure out ways to help them before they pick up that gun, not just lock our doors after it happens.
Amnesty has endorsed Dear Charlie because it shows how challenging it can be to respect the universality of human rights. ND Gomes doesn't just encourage us to feel empathy for the victims, she pushes us to think about the killer, to think beyond the headlines and not to dehumanise someone who has committed an inhuman act. Applying human rights to people who scare us can be very difficult, but it's fundamental to ensuring we're all offered justice, dignity and freedom.
Image: ND Gomes, author of Dear Charlie
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.