Feeling Safe Again in Public Spaces: Reflections on Sandy Hook

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other heartbreaking events like these have forced us increasingly to question our safety in public spaces. While the extensive body scanners, pat-downs, and other security procedures at airports have made us feel marginally safer about flying, these options are not valid for shopping malls, movie theaters, schools, or any of the other places that fifteen years ago seemed completely innocuous. Not only are security measures cost-prohibitive, but the appeal of these public spaces is their comfort, their familiarity, and their accessibility; a militaristic barricade of security guards would betray everything that we love about these places.

So what can we do to feel safe in public spaces? I remember having this same discussion, unfortunately, when I was in high school. It was April 21, 1999, the day after the Columbine shootings, and I recall multiple classmates demanding more intense security, more locked doors, and more proactive identification of suspicious persons. But I felt then (and after witnessing yesterday how even seemingly overprotective security is no match for a determined yet troubled soul, feel even more strongly today) that it is not security that we need to overcome our anxieties. What we need is community.

People will mental illnesses are not “someone else’s problem.”* They are people whose best chance at healing comes from compassion and acceptance. Focusing on what parents did wrong when raising their kids, how movies and video games are influencing children, or what we can do to keep ourselves safe now are questions that need to be secondary—if even relevant at all—to the bigger truth that we must all accept: we are all responsible for each other. As a teacher, I know how easy it is to look at a parent and think “If only they just did something,” or look at a student and think that it would be easier just not to have to deal with him or her in the first place. Yes, in an ideal world, all parents would know exactly what to do at all given times and all people would be receptive to the help of others. But let’s be honest about this world we live in, and recognize when we, too, are being called in to support.

I don’t know if we can ever feel completely secure in all public spaces anymore. There are some things that are just out of our control. But what is in our control is our perspective on other people, and the way we treat them. We enjoy public spaces largely because they are gathering places for everyone, because they bring us all together and help us enjoy each other’s company. And refusing to help, or even acknowledge, those who need us the most is contrary to everything these public spaces stand for.

Regardless of your politics, your privilege, and your past: we are all responsible for each other. At some point in your life, you have been helped by somebody even though you didn’t explicitly ask for that help. Now it’s your turn.

*I don’t mean to speculate as to the mental health of the man behind the Sandy Hook shootings. These are merely my reflections inspired by the actions of a clearly troubled individual.

Filed under: Community, Safety


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    Why doesn't the union furnish protection to the teachers, they could pay for the security by not giving the bosses and democrats as much as they want.Why can't the police furnish a guard instead of trying to catch somebody with joint. If they really cared about the students and teacher they would find a way. Why don't they arm the teachers, and teach them how to defend themselves.

  • In reply to John Bowers:

    Many schools already do have active guards and policemen, and all schools practice lockdown drills. Sadly, my students and I know which corner of my classroom we all need to huddle quietly in to best evade a shooter. I hide my keys in a certain spot because it is the most efficient place that I can lock my door in the event of an attack. It already sickens me that school--a place that is supposed to be welcoming, inviting, and warm--has been corrupted like this. But seriously, you think teachers need GUNS? Uh, no. Not only is that a disaster waiting to happen (I already have to hide my scissors from my absentminded cherubs), but that COMPLETELY betrays everything school stands for. I am a teacher, not a prison guard (contrary to popular student belief). And my students are frightened enough when they can't answer a discussion question. They don't need to know I have a semi-automatic weapon stashed away, too.

  • My suggestion for this is to voluntarily quit Facebook, stop watching mindless television shows and to once again occupy front porches instead of back decks.

    It is amazing to me that I can go to what are deemed "unsafe", third world countries, and not feel the twinge of fear in some public places in the US, this in places where automatic weapons are an clothing accessory.

    The block, the community and the town or city, used to take care of their own, both the good and bad. Now most wait for FEMA or the other man in the government suit to come out and save the day: SuperGovernmentMan -- able to leap huge bounds of bureaucratic paperwork with the help of any army of other bureaucrats.

    Nothing will change from the Sandy Hook killings, except maybe some more false assurances of safety by more guards, less guns and the vilification of people of differing opinions.

    Then, it will happen again.

    And again.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    I wish I could disagree with you, but I think you're completely right. We've seen events like these too many times with little substantial change. And the answer does lie in us helping each other out. It's good to know there are neighbors like you out there.

  • I was a teacher in the school system some years ago. Kids who go "nuts" at school have serious anger management issues. Majority of the kids who were like that came from from wealthy homes. These kids were just spoiled. Had everything and still wanted to get attention and start trouble. Needed a kick in the behind than seeing a doctor. And once you met their parents, you wanted to slap them around also.

    I believe if we had our kids (males & females) put into military service for three years, there would be more discipline in our society.

    Banning guns is not the answer. That would create more problems and lawlessness.

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