By Ariel Konieczko
On September 21 and 22, 2022, two metal detectors and bag scanning machines stood in Beacon High School’s lobby like huge gargoyles; their spooky presence intended to prevent DOE classified weapons from entering the building.
To pass the screening, students stood in crowds outside the high school for hours, all waiting to proceed through a row of police personnel inside. Some students left the line to grab breakfast while others huddled together under an overhang on the building’s facade to keep cover from rain.
Beacon’s Principal Brady wrote in a September 21 school-wide email that “This [situation] is a huge inconvenience, but it is a tool implemented by NYPD and School Safety to try to ensure all community members are safe at Beacon.” The PTA sent an email on the same day explaining the detectors were set up in response to graffiti in one of the boys’ bathrooms. Despite the lack of explicit details, many students assumed Beacon had experienced a threat of gun violence. It’s obvious students might reach this conclusion when the news of major gun violence attacks, like that at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is still fresh in their ears.
Less than a month later, the two day metal detector hassle was pushed to the back of busy students’ minds. What’s important to remember, however, is that the detectors were seen as a necessary action to keep students safe. The devastation of a school shooting wouldn’t escape kids’ minds in a month – it’s a lasting trauma.
Lunch lines are an expected part of the school day, security lines are not. New York City students deserve to get a decent education without worry of physical harm regardless of the school’s location, demographics, or prestige.
Beacon’s precautions are merely a bump in the sidewalk compared to the mountains of sorrow other American schools have faced. On October 24th’s tragic shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, Missouri a student and teacher were killed. Notably, the high school has both security guards and metal detectors.
Experts cite the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the rise in gun violence rates.
A New York Times article from earlier this year titled Gun deaths surged during the pandemic’s first year, the C.D.C. reports, explains, “More than 45,000 Americans died in gun-related incidents as the pandemic spread in the United States, the highest number on record, federal data shows.” As stated in the article, Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles blames a 35% increase in homicides from 2019-2020 on “the trauma of the past two years, and the mental health crisis that came out of this pandemic.”
Everytown for Gun Safety, an American non-profit established in 2013, also blames a drastic increase in gun violence rates on “economic distress and social isolation.” The organization’s website publishes statements explaining that the pandemic caused a surplus of hardship and death on people of color, with Black people “more than four times as likely to die from gun homicide.” Additionally, Asian and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), suffered from escalating gun violence during the pandemic. But, no matter who may be targeted, “Everytown estimates that people purchased 22 million guns in 2020, a 64 percent increase over 2019.”
These statistics quickly appear online after a simple search, but most New York City high schoolers are in the dark about the welfare and security of their families and peers. In an effort to increase gun violence awareness, Beacon students re-introduced an after-school club: Beacon Students Demand Action (BSDA). BSDA is one of many New York City based chapters of Students Demand Action, a volunteer initiative within Everytown for Gun Safety. Through writing to politicians, collaborating with other Beacon clubs and unions, and attending events, the club hopes to leave a profound impact on the Beacon community. Each member of the group is bravely staring into the stark eyes of national gun violence.
If present day America can’t protect its children, then it is on the shoulders of children to protect the future of America.