By Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Special to the AFRO

There are neighborhoods in Baltimore City that feel like they are remote, cut off from the rest of the city, distant. I have spent the last seven months visiting some of these communities, walking through the neighborhoods, visiting the schools and churches and liquor stores, and sitting down and talking to as many people as I could. There were days when the work felt hard, like when I met students who believed that they had no future, or adults who complained about living in a city where nobody cared if they lived or died. The work, on those days, felt overwhelming, painful even, but it was necessary because these are the stories and experiences that need to be shared. We need to sit with them, to see this city through their eyes, and to acknowledge their pain and their frustration. We also need to feel their joy, read the laughter and love in their stories and bear witness to their incredible acts of daily resistance and survival. There were days when I would leave a community full of hope that our city was getting better and on the road to recovery and then, there were days when it felt like it was the beginning of the end and that help was not on the way.

Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead (Courtesy Photo)

This is how I felt when I heard about the shooting that took place at Frederick Douglass High School last month. I have visited that school multiple times, participating in Teach-Ins and hosting a Teen Summit. I have gotten to know a few of the teachers and the students and I have always felt safe in the building. Every time that I visited, I encountered a locked door, I had to walk through the metal detector, and I was directed to go straight to the office. There are many schools in Baltimore that do not have this type of strict protocol in place.

The reality is that we live in a country where more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings and 2018 was considered to be the worst year for school shootings in recent history. At the same time, according to recent data, the statistical likelihood of being shot and killed in a mass school shooting is 1 in 614 million. As a parent of two school-age sons, I wrestle with this dichotomy every day, particularly because the trauma of dealing with the aftermath of a mass school shooting affects us all. I want more security protocols in place and I want to keep our children and our teachers safe; I just do not want guns in schools during the school day, either through arming teachers or by allowing Baltimore City school police officers (the only sworn school police force in the state) to carry their sidearms in the school during the day. This has been an ongoing debate and discussion because Baltimore City is the only school district in Maryland where school police are not allowed to carry their service weapons throughout the school day. Earlier this year, the Baltimore City School Board, in a vote of 10-0, voted against supporting a measure to expand the carrying powers for school police; but, in the aftermath of the Douglass shooting, while we were still dealing with the trauma, they chose to revisit this decision and to shift their position in favor of this measure. This is problematic and controversial because even with the shooting, there are still so many teachers and students who do not want guns to be carried in their school.

Last year, at the end of my Teen Summit at Douglass, where we talked about this issue and about community violence and policing, two young women came up to me to share their  stories. Michelle was extremely animated and told me that they talk about this all of the time, “We feel safer in school than we do on our blocks. When we’re at home and I hear gunshots, I just tell myself that they can’t kill us all. I hate guns.” Renee jumped in, “Me too, guns took away a lot of people that I love.” She stopped for a moment and sighed, “People think that just because we see guns all the time, we’re ok with them but we’re not. We just want to have one place where we don’t have to see them or think about them or even deal with them.” As they started to walk away, Michelle turned back to me, “One place. I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

Karsonya Wise Whitehead is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM and the author of the forthcoming “Dispatches from Baltimore: The Birth of the Black Mommy Activist.” She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.

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