Blood Money

NOTE: I unearthed this little screed today while poking around my hard drive for other, unrelated material.

I was angry when I drafted this. Since I’m still angry months later, I’m posting this as-was without revisions or further fact-checking. Consider it a short-duration time capsule.

If you’d care to argue about it, or quibble over facts in the comment section, feel free. Just know that if it appears you’re more interested in scoring points than solving problems, I will not be tasked with the chore of being your gentle mentor. Thanks. -JL

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Not many people know that Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday.

It’s not because I love proffering plant genitals or overpaying for crappy chocolate. Way back in 1987, February 14 was the day I got out of the army as a sergeant with four years of service; a day I’d dreamt of since well before the end of the first week of basic training. I was headed for school – all done with carrying a rifle, scouring the nose port of my gas mask, and pulling endless maintenance on vehicles I’d never own. Off to college, where I could find out what, who, and how I really wanted to be.

V.D. didn’t go so well this year. Like you, I mistakenly looked through the Eye of Saur—er, my internet connection, and was treated to something far worse than a glittery, red Russell Stover box.

An expelled former student from Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to school that day to write his name in the blood of former classmates. Nineteen students died on the floor, a consequence meted out for their sin of attending school.

This note wasn’t composed to announce that to you. You already know; may, in fact, have already put your two cents into the national debate over gun control, individual rights, mental health, etc. Our own President Donald Trump, armed with a note card reminding him to reassure kids that he hears them, joined you in that discussion when he suggested that one effective means to reduce school shootings – a bloodsport in which, unlike men’s hockey, we easily lead the civilized world – would be to ask teachers to carry guns and confront mass murderers at the risk of their lives. On February 22, having mulled this mass killing for a silent week, Pres. Trump tweeted the following:

History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!

Some of the wrinkles in this notion may seem instantly apparent to the most casual observer, one of which is that teachers literally didn’t sign up for that.

Let’s think about what it takes to be a teacher: a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and most likely a teaching certificate, as well. In many districts, a masters degree is required in order to further progress in the field. At no point in their continuing education are teachers required (or even encouraged) to spend district or personal funds for range training, fire and maneuver exercises, cover and concealment drills, or any of the multifarious instruction required to improve survivability in an active shooter scenario.

I suppose they could, though. That nice Mrs. Dickinson who teaches junior-year U.S. History in Room C-104 could pull a few bucks out of that cookie jar set aside from her paycheck to ensure that impoverished kids have access to pencils and paper, and get herself signed up for sporting clays league shoots.

Liberals may whine that teachers aren’t supposed to be in the bravery business, but you can ignore those bleeding hearts. Plenty of teachers have died in schools already, throwing their bodies in front of targeted students. They don’t charge a penny extra for this last full measure of devotion.

In fact, they don’t charge nearly enough.

Teachers in Broward County earn salaries on a sliding scale pegged to experience. It starts at a mere $40,724.00, but let’s say that nice Mrs. Dickinson has been on the job for fifteen (15) years since earning her bachelor’s degree. That makes her eligible for a top salary of $46,164.00 per year. If she has a master’s degree – but ONLY if her master’s degree is in the area specified on her Florida teaching certificate – she can earn another $3,650.00 annually, for a total of $50,114.00.

Timbuk 3 famously sang that “Fifty thou a year will buy a lotta beer,” but that was in 1986. These days, after “helping” the District buy classroom supplies, fifty grand seems less grand.

Shouldn’t teachers also buy guns and ammo for their job? After all, cops often buy their own sidearms – and sometimes uniforms, too.

On the other hand, police officers don’t have to pay for their training out of pocket. Practice ammo is provided. Emergency driver training, CPR, radio protocols: all part of the training package.

Deputies also don’t have to teach five periods a day while securing their school. Anyway, we’ve already instituted, and continue to maintain, layers of law enforcement between classrooms and the disordered off-campus world. Campus cops are in place across America to keep our kids secure.

So how’d that work out in practice?

The Broward Sheriff’s Office received information that the murderer was planning a school shooting two years before he strode into the hallways of his former school and began a casual slaughter of taxpayers’ children. The Federal Bureau of Investigation received two (2) direct, specific tips that this particular murderer planned a mass shooting at this particular high school, and took no action.

Still, their failure didn’t become complete until Valentine’s Day. BSO had a school resource officer stationed at the campus – armed, sworn, and (unlike teachers) specifically trained for active shooter scenarios. That man was a senior deputy with Broward’s department.

While Aaron Feis, the football line coach, gave his life alongside the cross-country coach and the athletic director to shield school kids from the angry face of death, the school’s resource officer huddled outside, listening to the shots echo around his post, and took no action.

That deputy had one job. No classes to teach, no students to advise, and no sports teams to coach. His whole gig, the often boring and occasionally complex task for which he was specifically trained and paid well, was securing their campus – and that experienced professional lawman, badge shining on his chest, never even went through the door while an angry young terrorist stalked through three floors of the building, systematically gunning down the defenseless. He just let it happen.

While the great-hearted lineman’s big body went into the ground and his name into local legend, the deputy who did nothing – NOTHING – to stop those murders quietly put in his papers for a generous retirement package.

As the shooting went on and on, three more deputies showed up, and what did they do? They stood outside with the Kampus Kop. Not a single Broward deputy ever confronted the shooter who finally put down his weapon, shucked off his murdering duds and slowly fled the building alongside the student body, hands in the air like everyone else. Afterward, he wandered off to enjoy a cool beverage before, eventually, submitting to a gentle arrest off-site.

Now, a lot of folks have criticized the President’s words. They say teachers aren’t trained for security work. They point out that multiplying guns in an active shooter fracas adds confusion and the prospect of inadvertent, additional shooting deaths. They say that teachers are already under enough stress, and perhaps shouldn’t tote guns on the regular (in fairness, this is also true of cops – and most other human beings). They worry aloud that students will get hold of teachers’ weapons during hallway scuffles or classroom disagreements. They accuse teachers of being peaceniks, naturally unsuited to bearing arms at work – and many teachers agree.

The actions of Aaron Feis, et al, said different. Teachers break up hallway fights. They direct the rage of abused kids toward building productive lives. They devote their lives to building American citizens, and sometimes they give those lives in defense of our shared future. Their raison d’être is to hand those kids the gift I dreamed of on that Valentine’s Day when I signed out of duty and headed west by northwest: the chance to find out what, who, and how they really want to be. Teachers are every bit as courageous as firefighters – and sometimes demonstrably tougher than cops.

Squabbling over the proper role of teachers conceals a larger point, though, one that’s perennially dear to the neo-conservative Republicans and phony Independents constituting our President’s base: naked economics.

When Pres. Trump doubled down on his comments about “hardening” schools, he asserted that many teachers are former military and therefore “adept” with gunplay. While surely he misestimates NEA union membership, it certainly seems like an elegant suggestion. We’ll just place a few guns into teachers’ trustworthy hands and stop waiting for the police to show up (memetically speaking, “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away”). Et voila, safer kids! No extra charge!

But let’s recall that there was a career cop, with all the necessary training, stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High before the murderer got there. That deputy didn’t have to gun it across town, lights blazing and siren wailing. When seconds counted, he was nowhere near three minutes away.

In essence, he had responded to the active shooter scenario before it began to unfold. Maybe, just maybe, a rapidly evolving mass shooting in the real world ain’t quite as simple and predictable as a Bruce Willis movie.

There was a cop stationed on site. There was a cop. Stationed on site. There was a cop stationed. On site. A cop.

And that cop did nothing. While shots boomed into classrooms and whined through the hallways; while kids screamed, and fell, and bled out onto institutionally tiled floors, that deputy didn’t twitch an eyelid to protect them.

Teachers did. Staff did. They frantically barricaded classrooms and offices. They ran to the sound of the gun to protect their charges. Their bravery was incredible. Aaron Feis leapt in front of the shooter in an act of valor so beautiful and pure that the district should name a building after him. A big, brave building.

Perhaps the President has a point. Maybe it’s not the worst idea to arm teachers. Anyone with the guts to stand down packs of surly adolescents all day has hard-drawn wire for motor windings. Perhaps they’re just the women and men we need in order to “harden” our society. We could hand them keys to the weapons locker, swear them to master-at-arms duty; eventually even expand hall monitoring to include street patrols.

Except that they’re pretty busy with those full-time jobs, and none of them get police-level pay. Funny, huh? The selfless service of faculty members who face down death isn’t worth the same cold, hard cash as the cop whose understanding of hisjob that day was to go home safe to his family.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office base salary range starts at $52,000.00 and runs to $79,000.00, roughly “from a little more than a teacher with a master’s degree and 15 years’ experience, to a whole lot more than a career administrator holding a doctorate.” Deputy benefits include medical, dental, and vision coverage for officers and their partners; no-cost life insurance; line of duty benefits; an excellent leave package; 24-hour fitness center; and many other perks (source: Broward County recruitment post).

The work requires a high school diploma, a fairly clean record, and apparently the guts of a jack o’lantern from last Halloween. Sweet deal, deputies! Especially for work that, in practice, seems a helluva lot less dangerous than teaching school – or even (in Broward County) attending school.

FBI pay starts about the same, with beginners earning $52,007.00 during their first year, after “locality pay” is added. Most agents also pull down 25% more in “availability pay,” pushing a green agent’s pay packet as high as $74,360.00. That’s a lot of dosh for a guy or gal who doesn’t even have to show up and stand around outside the building while a terrorist mops up teenagers until his trigger finger gets tired.

“If you see something, say something”… to a teacher. Don’t bother phoning the Bureau. The FBI may be from the government, but they weren’t there to help.

If you were to base your opinion on this shooting alone, logic decrees that Pres. Trump is correct: we should arm all the teachers, and arm them now. They have admirable learning curves, professional training skills, high education levels; also, they’re as stupid-brave as a pit bull guarding a basket full of babies. If teachers are a better bet for school defense than county deputies or the feds, then let’s hand them an arsenal, swear them to duty, and go back to watching the game. Problem solved!

In Broward County, school cop work is worth a minimum of $52K with full benefits, but let’s not forget that second job of theirs. Remember, that one they went to college at their own expense to learn how to perform? That’s worth another $50,114.00 for the nice U.S. History teacher. If she plays both ways, she has a defensible claim to $102,114.00. That’ll add up quickly, but it’s still probably cheaper to the county than defending the avalanche of lawsuits they’re about to face for utterly, pathetically, willfully failing their sworn duty to protect and serve.

Let’s not haggle too hard with the teachers if they’re gonna be combat-trained and well-armed. Besides, teachers clearly have more guts than any union buster we might send to arrest them.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Dickinson. No one ever deserved a raise more.

Comments

  1. Lyle Gunderson says:

    When I write something (usually a letter or email) when I’m angry, I like to let it sit for a day or two, so I can review it after I’ve cooled down and then decide whether to send it off to it’s target, I mean, recipient, or not.

    In the case of this post, I don’t think you or I will ever stop being angry about this tragedy. I’m glad you posted it, because we shouldn’t stop.

    How do you make courage a job qualification for law enforcement? How would you test for it?

  2. The tragedy of school shootings like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High or West Nickel Mines Amish School near me are just too hard to undrestand.

    The economics of teacher pay and police pay are one tiny slice of the injustice within the tragedy.It’s something we can point to as needing a fix, sort of like banning guns or improving mental heath care.

    Maybe those things will help. Maybe society picks the wrong thing, but it will be a fresh tragedy if nothing changes and there’s another massacre of children.

  3. Mr. William M Treadway says:

    Jack, I was shocked at the fail of the school cop. Not gobsmackef though. I’ve had people freeze up and curl up in a ball in fire fights as I’m sure you have. In a way, I’m glad I’m not the guy who has to live with that sort of fail.
    I think training, qualifying and arming SOME teachers would be a good idea. It would be voluntary and would be an excellent excuse to compensate the classroom marshals for their qualification. As a 72 year old infantry officer I’d be willing to spend time at a school and, if necessary, shuffle towards the sound of the guns. There are probably enough geezers and enough teachers to make the school shooting and school shooting cowards a little rarer

  4. Jack, my brother, I think I’ve told you about the many heroes and cowards I knew as an active duty Marine… combat is the truest test, and at first many fail, then recover and give it another try; as corny as it sounds it was easy for me, I was a very angry young man (the USMC recruiters love that) and like panderers they bought me for a 2500 bonus to sign up for six years as an artillery fire computer expert, halfway through my training I was recruited by a MAU (Marine Amphibious Unit) who needed a smart, very angry rocket man! As Marines we learned from combat, never running away from an ordered engagement, but sometimes “faltering” but not faltering as badly the next fire-fight! These cops will probably never get that “Red Badge Of Courage” redux and thus will live with the shame until they die, abusive alcoholics who torture their wives and children, like most closet-homo cowardly bully psychos who need a gun & badge to feel like a “true man,” whatever the fuck that means…

  5. Jackie Matlock says:

    Thanks for posting this Jack Lewis. I recently finished your “Nothing in Reserve”. Not an easy read for me because of the technical info on weapons, transport vehicles etc. But, you always seem to bring real humanness into all you write and say. Insight into your life in Iraq and that of your crew members helped me begin to understand what war and combat really are. I am against both but thankful for those who willingly or dutifully do battle where needed. In the USA today, priorities are too skewed toward profit and power when all we really need is to get to know each other, understand our differences and treat everyone with the love and respect we desire for ourselves and our loved ones. The typically young white males who are demonstrating their misalignment with society by use of military weapons on innocents are one of the loudest of the warning signs. But majority refuse to see or listen.

    • We have lost the thread of something pure and sweet, perhaps because we forgot that we (and everyone else) are worth it. Lately, we seem to believe that only those within a steadily shrinking pool of purified similarity are worth it.

      We burn the bridges on our own land, and blame our neighbors for the smoke.

  6. Well said, Mr. Lewis- I definitely share in your anger. I’m the father of a DaringDaughter who has the smarts and grades to do anything she wants in life, but her passion drives her to study early childhood education in college. Never did I imagine I would be more nervous of her choice to be a teacher than I would had she followed her younger dream to be a USCG rescue copter pilot. Sadly, her young innocence was already shattered with a mass shooting in the local Chardon school district several years ago, so I can’t even hide behind “but the chances it will happen to you are so small…” platitudes. I offer no good answers, but certainly appreciate your words.

  7. Major thanks for the blog post. Want more.

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